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Rohingya man in Gunma asks Japanese people to help refugees in Bangladesh

Rohingya children sleep in a field in a refugee camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. (Photo courtesy of Aung Tin)
Aung Tin is pictured in Tatebayashi, Gunma Prefecture, on Oct. 31, 2017. (Mainichi)

TATEBAYASHI, Gunma -- A Myanmarese member of an association here that represents the interests of Rohingya people living in Japan visited a refugee camp in Bangladesh in October, to view the situation concerning Rohingya refugees.

Aung Tin, 49, who is in charge of refugee affairs at the "Burmese Rohingya Association in Japan," traveled to a refugee camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, where he met up with fellow people of the minority Myanmar Muslin group, Rohingya.

To date, it is thought that approximately 600,000 Rohingya people have fled to Bangladesh in order to escape the cleanup operation that is being inflicted by security forces in Myanmar. However, while the previous threat of cleanup violence may have faded away, the situation in the refugee camps is bleak, prompting Aung Tin to ask Japanese people for their support.

Traveling with another member of the association, Aung Tin traveled to a camp on the coast of Bangladesh, in the southeastern city of Cox's Bazar. There, he saw people side- by-side under thin vinyl "tents," as well as children sleeping in fields, without any sign of a roof. He also saw a man with bullets in his chest, as well as child corpses floating along the river. Commenting on these harrowing scenes, Aung Tin -- who fled from Myanmar 27 years ago -- said, "It was an unbelievable sight."

The rainy season was still in mid-flow when he went, meaning there were heavy downpours on many of the days. Rainwater would frequently flow into the tents, causing unhygienic conditions. Some of the refugees were exposed to rain and wind because they did not have tents, and some had become ill.

In particular, the sight of children without any relatives stood out, and it is clear that these children are vulnerable to being exploited by groups involved in terrorism or human trafficking. Aung Tin saw an 11-year-old boy being abducted by several other men and then flung into a large vinyl bag. Fortunately, the boy was rescued by the Bangladesh Army after crying for help, but as the association member explains despondently, "This kind of thing is happening all over the place."

According to organizations such as the United Nations, approximately 60 percent of the refugees are younger than 18 years of age. Moreover, it is thought that tens of thousands of children have lost their parents or relatives due to fighting between Myanmar security forces and Rohingya militia.

As part of its effort to help the refugee camp, the association has installed well pumps and basic toilets, and donated blood-pressure gauges. It is also planning to build a school in the area.

"I want to send the children to school, and have them meet on a daily basis with a responsible adult, in order to avoid the risk of serious problems such as human trafficking," Aung Tin says. Currently, the association is asking people to contribute toward projects such as the construction of new schools. Aung Tin can be contacted directly about this, via 080-3463-6187.

In July 1990, Aung Tin fled from Myanmar following a crackdown by the military government. He arrived in Japan in 1992 after spending some time in countries including Thailand.

There are currently about 230 Rohingya people living in Japan and 90 percent of these people are apparently based in and around the city of Tatebayashi in Gunma Prefecture.

According to the association, many of these people have special residence permission. However, only a few have been granted refugee status to be eligible for public financial support, meaning that many of them live with a lingering sense of instability.

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