Dhaka, May 15 (IANS/AKI) Almost 12,000 Rohingya refugees have now been relocated to safer ground as storms continue to lash southern Bangladesh, damaging tarpaulin shelters and raising the risk of landslides, the UN migration agency the International Organisation for Migration said on Tuesday.
"The impact of the recent storms is a worrying indication of what people will face during the cyclone season and at the height of monsoon," said Manuel Pereira, IOM's Emergency Coordinator in the Cox's Bazar area.
With support from partners, IOM has so far has helped 11,791 people to relocate - either because they were at serious risk of landslides and floods - or to allow for emergency access and other crucial infrastructure to be installed ahead of monsoon, the agency said.
Around 3,000 more people have been relocated by other agencies for similar reasons and IOM is racing to help relocate 24,000 people in overcrowded conditions who are at highest risk on the steep sandy slopes of the refugee settlements in Cox's Bazaar.
The latest relocations came as early incident reports revealed that lightning storms and strong winds, which have hit the refugee camps over the past few days, damaged scores of shelters and caused several small landslides, creating even more precarious living conditions for some refugees.
"There is no time to lose in supporting those at risk to move to safer ground. The work being done under the SMEP will help save lives," said, Pereira, referring to the Site Maintenance Engineering Project.
The SMEP, a joint effort between IOM, the UN World Food Programme and UNHCR, is also working at full speed to prepare new land made available by the government to the southwest of the existing camps to allow more people to move to safer ground, IOM said.
The first section of a new site to the southwest of the current camps is now ready to receive shelters and other key services, including water, hygiene and education facilities. The newly prepared land is part of around 40 acres that will be prepared in the coming weeks to accommodate hundreds of families most at risk from floods and landslides, the agency stated.
The government of Bangladesh has made 500 acres of new land available to relocate refugees at risk, but due to the topography of the Cox's Bazar area, where much of the land is hilly, major earthworks are needed to prepare the ground, said IOM.
Only a fraction of the newly available land can be made safe for relocation before the monsoon, which will begin in earnest next month, IOM warned.
IOM and its partners are also pre-positioning of key road clearing equipment and emergency provisions, mobile medical services among other measures to help refugees in the coming months, Pereira said.
Almost 700,000 refugees have fled violence in neighbouring Myanmar and arrived in Cox's Bazar since August 2017, according to the UN.
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