Roughly 1,000 acres of forest will be leveled to make room for Myanmar refugees pouring into Bangladesh, officials have announced.
“Now the numbers have gone up by more than 100,000 and people are still coming. So, the government has to allocate 1,000 acres (400 hectares) of forest land,” Mohammad Shah Kamal, Bangladesh's secretary of disaster management and relief, said on Thursday.
The minister noted that the government already allocated 2,000 acres when the number of refugees was 400,000.
Once all the trees are toppled, aid workers plan to put up 150,000 tarpaulin shelters in their place.
During a press conference held in Cox's Bazar, the Bangladeshi government officially declared Rohingya refugees “forcefully displaced Myanmar citizens.”
"As per the decision of the Foreign Ministry, the state will identify Rohingya people as forcefully displaced Myanmar citizens. This identity will be assigned from today (Thursday)," said Bangladeshi Disaster Management Minister Mofazzal Hossain Chowdhury Maya.
According to the official registry, 61,000 Rohingya Muslims have taken refuge in the neighboring nation, with an additional 6,000 to 7,000 registering daily, the minister said.
More than half a million Rohingya have arrived from Myanmar’s western state of Rakhine since the end of August in what the United Nations has called the world’s fastest-developing refugee emergency.
Signs of stress from the refugee crisis have appeared across the country's natural environment, as the government continues to destroy acres of natural reservations to make room for refugee tents.
Animal experts say the temporary refugee camps have blocked natural migratory routes for around 50 wild Asian elephants and may cause their extinction during the winter months if the situation remains unchanged.
Calls from the World Wildlife Fund warn that human-elephant interaction generally lead to conflict and elephant raids.
Last week, two refugees were trampled to death by wild elephants and experts warn that more are sure to follow.
“The situation is very bad,” said Kazi Abdur Rahman, a senior official in the Bangladesh border district of Cox’s Bazar, where most of the Rohingya are settled.
In just one month, 4,500 acres of forest reserves were leveled in Ukhia, forest officials said.
According to Cox's Bazar Deputy Commissioner Md. Ali Hossain, due to the influx of migrants, the government has no other option without any other land at its disposal.
The mass exodus of Rohingya Muslims began after Myanmar security forces responded to Rohingya militants’ attacks on Aug. 25, launching a brutal crackdown that the United Nations has denounced as an ethnic cleansing.
Myanmar has rejected that accusation, insisting that the military action was needed to combat “terrorists” who had killed civilians and burnt villages.