Massive, makeshift refugee camps are sprawling over farms and open land in southern Bangladesh as more than 420,000 Rohingya Muslims flee violent attacks in their predominantly Buddhist homeland of Myanmar.
In a matter of weeks, thousands of temporary shelters have been erected in the Bangladesh district of Cox’s Bazar, according to new before-and-after satellite images released exclusively to The Associated Press on Wednesday.
“Tents have sprung up all over the area. It’s a dramatic expansion,” said Stephen Wood, a senior imagery analyst at Westminster, Colorado-based DigitalGlobe, which used high-resolution cameras in space to take photos of the camps for the AP.
One photo showed a long traffic jam of cars going through the area, possibly relief workers on their way in, or government workers trying to install water or shelter systems.
The images offer an expansive view of what journalists, government agencies and aid groups have been seeing firsthand. Existing facilities are overwhelmed by streams of desperate families walking overland or clambering out of boats because they fear for their lives following attacks that some world leaders call ethnic cleansing.
Until now, the assumption was that the size of existing refugee camps had doubled in the past few weeks. A Sept. 16 satellite image of just one camp, Kutupalong, shows it stretched about 3.9 square kilometers (1.5 square miles), about four times its former size.
The landscape continues to change, however. In recent days Bangladeshi officials have been ordering some refugees out of Kutupalong camp and into Balukhali camp, a few kilometers (miles) away. DigitalGlobe’s imagery showed that Balukhali has expanded dramatically as well. The images don’t capture every makeshift home, which some Rohingya don’t need because they’ve been taken in by Bangladeshi families.
The United Nations has airlifted in thousands of shelters. The large white plastic tarps, held up with metal tent poles, have no floors…