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Last Updated: Saturday, 29 September 2007, 18:29 GMT 19:29 UK
Burmese exiles in desperate conditions
By Mark Dummett
BBC News, Dhaka

The Tal camp is not much more than a swamp. It is the squalid home of about 8,000 refugees - the victims of the Burmese military.

They are Muslims, and of the Rohingya minority.

In total as many as 200,000 have settled in Bangladesh, to escape persecution, over the past 20 years. They have been keenly following events in their home country, hoping that military rule will crumble, and that they can soon restart their lives.

They are unwelcome guests here, so they do not receive any support from the Bangladeshi government.

Toyaba Haq
When the sun shines, we get burnt - when it rains, we all get wet
Toyaba Haq, mother of seven

They get barely enough food to eat from scavenging in the forest, begging, prostitution or doing the most menial of work in the nearest town.

Their flimsy houses are squeezed onto a 30m-wide strip of land and mangroves, between a busy road and the Naf River, which separates the most southerly tip of Bangladesh and Burma's Arakan state.

The residents say that already this year 20 children have been knocked down by passing vehicles, and at high tide each day the camp floods.

During the rainy season and when cyclones strike the area, everyone suffers.

"When the sun shines, we get burnt. When it rains, we all get wet. There is not even a spare bit of land for us to sit down, and our houses are so cramped," said Toyaba Haq, a mother of seven.

Necessary exile

Conditions are absolutely appalling, but everyone in the camp agrees they are better off here than in Burma.

"The government is torturing the Muslim community," said Dudu Miah, a health care worker. "It steals our lands to build military camps, it takes our men for forced labour, it refuses us education."

"We need to get permission to marry or even have children," he said. "This is the third time I have come to Bangladesh as a refugee, and my life is totally ruined. I just want to live in my Arakan, my Burma."

Not much information about the demonstrations is now reaching the camp, even though Burma is just the other side of the river.

Tal camp
Tal camp is home to around 8,000 refugees

Some say that the Burmese military has stepped up patrols along the border to prevent any protest leaders, or news, crossing into Bangladesh.

They have not been entirely successful, and snippets of information indicate that the protest movement had spread to even small towns in Arakan before the army stepped in.

Exiles say that Muslims had joined protests led by Buddhist monks, but there is no way of confirming any of this information.

Mohammed Salim, who feeds his family of eight by carrying mud on building sites, listens to the BBC Burmese Service on his shortwave radio to find out what he can.

"We all support these demonstrations, the monks, and Aung Sang San Suu Kyi. We want the military to go, so we can go home," he said.

But Toyaba Haq is not at all hopeful. "There is no peace in this world," she said. "There is just strife, strife, strife, and I want it to stop."


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