BANGLADESH: Islamic Relief to withdraw from makeshift refugee camp
Close to 13,000 undocumented Rohingya receive much-needed humanitarian aid at the 20-hectare Leda site outside the border town of Teknaf, about 500km southeast Dhaka. The aid includes shelter, health care, a therapeutic feeding centre and access to clean water.
"Regrettably we have no choice but to leave," Ahmed Nasr, Islamic Relief's country director, told IRIN.
"The absence of government approval is the main reason," he said.
The move underscores the difficulties aid agencies face in assisting what is now described as one of the most protracted refugee situations in the world today.
For decades, hundreds of thousands of Rohingya - an ethnic, linguistic and religious minority - have fled persecution in neighbouring Myanmar, only to find themselves unwelcome in Bangladesh.
Dhaka says they are illegal migrants who do little more than add to crippling poverty in southern Bangladesh.
If further assistance is provided, the Bangladeshi authorities say, more Rohingya will follow in an influx the government is ill-equipped to handle.
Islamic Relief first became involved with the Rohingya in 2005, when close to 2,000 families began crossing the River Naf separating Myanmar and Bangladesh.
Constructed on government forest land in July 2008, the Leda site played a key role in alleviating the suffering of thousands of newly-arrived Rohingya who settled along the river in squalid conditions.
In 2007 the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) successfully negotiated with the government to relocate, on humanitarian grounds, thousands of unregistered Rohingya living along the tidal river site to the Leda site, about 3km from Nayapara, one of two government-run camps for documented Rohingya.
The move was facilitated by Islamic Relief in mid-2008, after the NGO constructed the new site with the support of the European Commission's Humanitarian Aid Office (ECHO) and the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF).
Although official government approval for the project was never provided, tacit support for Islamic Relief's efforts - including the provision of government land to erect the site - was always there, Nasr said.
"They aren't asking the NGOs to leave. They know the presence of the NGOs is important," he said, adding that further NGO presence to assist the Rohingya, as well as surrounding communities, is still very much needed.
According to UNHCR, there are some 200,000 Rohingya living in Bangladesh, the vast majority of whom live in slums or informal settlements in Cox's Bazar District.
Only 28,000 are documented refugees, who live in two official camps assisted by the agency.
In addition to those at Leda, close to 30,000 more undocumented Rohingya now stay at a makeshift camp in Kutupalong, which has witnessed a recent increase in arrivals following a crackdown [ http://www.irinnews.org/Report.aspx?ReportId=88145] on Rohingya outside the two official camps.
The site is directly adjacent to the Kutupalong official camp, where documented refugees receive assistance from UNHCR.