As it struggles to deal with a massive influx of Rohingya refugees, Bangladesh has announced plans to build a 3,000-acre camp that will house up to 800,000 people.
It will be the biggest refugee camp in the world, dwarfing Dadaab in Kenya and Bidi Bidi in Uganda, both of which house about 300,000 people.
Over half a million refugees have already fled Myanmar following a violent military crackdown in the Rakhine province in August. Until now, the refugees have been living in camps scattered throughout southern Bangladesh. They are fleeing from “crimes against humanity” perpetrated by the Myanmar military, which has been accused of murdering children and burning entire cities.
According to reports from earlier this week, between 4,000 and 5,000 refugees are crossing into Bangladesh every single day.
“The Rohingya have faced decades of persecution and targeted violence in Myanmar, but the recent attacks that began just over a month ago are of an entirely new scale and level of inhumanity,” says Refugees International President Eric Schwartz.
The United Nations has condemned the violence against the Rohingya, with Human Rights Chief Zeid Raad al-Huseein calling it “textbook ethnic cleansing.”
“We’ve received bone-chilling accounts from those who fled, mainly women, children, and the elderly,” says UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
The situation is “the world’s fastest developing refugee emergency,” says UNICEF Chief Anthony Lake. “The human tragedy unfolding in southern Bangladesh is staggering in its scale, complexity, and rapidity.”
The Burmese government argues that it is not trying to wipe out the Rohingya, but that it is simply responding to “brutal acts of terrorism.”
According to government official Mohammad Shah Kamal, the new refugee camp will be ready by the end of the month. It will be located in the southeast corner of the country, near the Myanmar border.
This is a doomsday strategy. Having 800,000 refugees crowded into one camp will create ideal conditions for diseases that could wipe out thousands of people.
In his famous essay on population, political economist Thomas Malthus explained that a given population will expand to consume all available resources until it is checked by war, famine, or disease. This is where disease comes in.
The UN has expressed the same concern. “When you concentrate too many people into a very small area, particularly the people who are very vulnerable to diseases, it is dangerous,” says Robert Watkins, the UN resident coordinator in Dhaka. “There are stronger possibilities, if there are any infectious diseases that spread, that will spread very quickly. It is much easier to manage people, manage the health situation, and security situation if there are a number of different camps rather than one concentrated camp.”