Bangladesh is planning to introduce voluntary sterilisation in its overcrowded Rohingya camps, where nearly a million refugees are fighting for space, after efforts to encourage birth control failed, news agency AFP reported.
More than 600,000 Rohingya have arrived in Bangladesh since a military crackdown in neighbouring Myanmar in August triggered an exodus, straining resources in the impoverished country.
The latest arrivals have joined hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees who fled in earlier waves from Myanmar´s Rakhine state, where the stateless Muslim minority has endured decades of persecution.
Most live in desperate conditions with limited access to food, sanitation or health facilities and local officials fear a lack of family planning could stretch resources even further.
Pintu Kanti Bhattacharjee, who heads the family planning service in the district of Cox´s Bazar where the camps are based, said there was little awareness of birth control among the Rohingya.
“The whole community has been deliberately left behind,” he told AFP, citing a lack of education in Myanmar, where the Rohingya are viewed as illegal immigrants and denied access to many services.
Bhattacharjee said large families were the norm in the camps, where some parents had up to 19 children and many Rohingya men have more than one wife.
District family planning authorities have launched a drive to provide contraception, but say they have so far managed to distribute just 549 packets of condoms among the refugees, who are reluctant to use them.
They have asked the government to approve a plan to launch vasectomies for Rohingya men and tubectomies for women, Bhattacharjee told AFP.
But they are likely to face an uphill struggle.
Many of the refugees told AFP they believed a large family would help them survive in the camps, where access to food and water remains a daily battle and children are often sent out to fetch and carry supplies.
Meanwhile, Bangladesh’s main opposition BNP urged Premier Sheikh Hasina to follow in the footsteps of India’s former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, in handling the Rohingya crisis.
“We saw the then Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi visiting important countries during our 1971 Liberation War( against Pakistan). Only then the global initiative began,” Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir said.
He said BNP had long been advocating that the premier should play a special role to resolve the Rohingya crisis to convince countries which still support Buddhist-majority Myanmar, allowing it to carry on atrocities against ethnic minority Rohingya Muslims.
Aid agencies and rights groups said the Rohingya crisis is spinning out of control with escalating violence, worsening health situation and poor access to conflict zones in Rakhine state fuelling the humanitarian crisis.
“I worry that this continued context of fear and violence is spinning out of control and will only lead to displacement of more people,” International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) chairman Peter Maurer said this week.
UN investigators said during the latest crackdown, Myanmar’s security forces fired indiscriminately on unarmed civilians, including children, and committed widespread sexual violence.
Despite initial reluctance to allow the Rohingya influx, Dhaka decided to provide them refuge on “humanitarian grounds”.
But it has turned into the scene of the world’s biggest refugee crisis presently while Dhaka tries to mobilise sustained global pressure on Myanmar to take back the Rohingyas while stopping alleged atrocities in Rakhine.