The government will start collecting information on undocumented Rohingya migrants in September to determine their numbers, agencies report. Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) will conduct the census in six districts – Khagrhachharhi, Bandarban, Rangamati, Chittagong, Cox’s Bazar, and Patuakhali. “We’ll have to finish the work by March next year,” Project Director Alamgir Hossain told bdnews24.com about the first of its kind project.
The government claims thousands of unregistered Rohingyas are staying in Bangladesh apart from 30,000 registered Rohingyas, who are lodged at two refugee camps. Thousands of people from Rohingya Muslim ethnic community fled to Bangladesh from Buddhist-dominated Myanmar over the years, mostly to avoid persecution. Myanmar refuses to acknowledge them as its citizens and dubs them ‘Bengalis’ – a term Naypyidaw uses to describe both the Rohingyas and Bangladeshis.
Project Director Hossain said they had finished the initial work in the last five months and the Planning Commission cleared Tk 217.5 million fund for the project on Wednesday. “We’ll start the census once we get the fund,” he said, hoping to receive the money within September. They would seek assistance from local administration and public representatives apart from government institutions, NGOs and the media, he added.
Officials involved in the project say a national taskforce committee has been formed, headed by the foreign secretary, to encourage unregistered Rohingyas to join the process. Those who will come forward will get special cards from the ministry that will allow them access to special privileges from the government and the NGOs. The database will have pictures of unregistered Rhohingyas and general information.
But many Rohingyas living in coastal areas refuse to be documented, fearing Dhaka will deport them. The Cabinet on Sept 9, 2013 approved a national strategy to document unregistered Rohingyas. On June 26, the government approved fund for the project. The Rohingyas have been a contentious bilateral issue between Dhaka and Nypyidaw for a long time. Last month, the government said an estimated 50,000 Rohingyas were staying abroad with Bangladeshi passports.
Media reports said Pakistan’s Lashkar-e-Taiba and two of its front groups were active on the Myanmar-Bangladesh border and trying to radicalise the Rohingyas. The foreign ministry says it will decide about the Rohingyas after documenting them. Election Commission officials say information from this project can be utilised to thwart Rohingyas’ attempts to be included in the voter list.
In 2013, the EC scrapped nearly 17,000 applications for inclusion in the voter list from the ‘Rohingya-dominated’ areas in Cox’s Bazar, Bandarban and Rangamati. In 2010, the number was 50,000. “We have discussed about building a database on the Rohingyas,” EC’s Senior Assistant Secretary Mahfuza Akter told bdnews24.com, adding the project would be helpful for the EC’s proposed database.