Over the past several months, more than 700,000 Rohingya refugees have fled Myanmar into refugee camps in Bangladesh to escape an ethnic cleansing, according to the United Nations.

Safe from the violence overwhelming their home villages, these refugees now face an array of new threats such as lack of clean water and food, contagious diseases, human trafficking, looming landslides, and even frightened elephants.

At least 10 people in the camps have been trampled to death by elephants over the past few months and dozens more have been injured, according to Agence France Presse.

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That’s because many of the camps established for refugees intersect with elephant habitats, according to AFP.

There are about 40 elephants who travel throughout this region for food, according to the United Nations.

In the past, elephants could leisurely look for food. Now, vast tracts of trees have been leveled for camp supplies and elephant feeding areas are crowded with makeshift homes.

While searching for a dwindling food supply, elephants often encounter the camps, according to AFP.

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Videos show elephants towering over houses tentatively moving through the dirt lanes of refugee settlements as people run in terror.

This conflict for space is endangering both the refugees and the elephants, the UN says. Globally, there are more refugees than at any other time in recorded history and elephants have seen their habitats dramatically diminish over the past several decades.

“The area now occupied by the Kutupalong refugee settlement has long been an important habitat for Asian Elephants,” the UN said in a statement, according to AFP.

“When wild elephants attempt to pass through the camp they inevitably come into contact with people, which is where the danger arises. Tragically 10 refugees have been killed by frightened elephants inside the settlements. Other people have been injured and lost the little property they had,” the statement added.

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The UN is now working with the International Union for Conservation of Nature to help create a cohesive relationship between the camps and elephants, according to AFP. The IUCN will be training camp residents how to placate elephants to deter them from rampaging in fear through villages.

Overall, the mortalities, injuries, and property destruction from elephants have disrupted everyday behaviors in the camps, according to the UN.

Many children have become scared of elephants and other animals and no longer seek out places of education or therapy, Daphnee Cook, Communications and Media Manager for ‎Save the Children International’s Rohingya Response, told Global Citizen.

“Threat of animal attacks is quite real,” she said, but added that children, especially girls, are intimidated from going outside for a number of other reasons, including the threat of sexual violence and human trafficking.

Save the Children recently released a report detailing the challenges and hardships faced by Rohingya children living in refugee camps throughout Bangladesh. The report argues that the crisis disportionately affects children by barring them from a normal childhood, depriving them of education, and exposing them to unimaginable trauma.

More than half of the Rohingya refugees are children, the report notes.

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The threat of elephants might seem minor in the face of the near-genocide that happened in Myanmar, but on top of everything else Rohingya refugees are facing, fears of being trampled by an elephant can quickly become unbearable.

"Children deserve to grow up in a world free from fear, surrounded by those who love them—enabling them to live life in all its fullness," Fred Witteveen, World Vision Bangladesh Country Director, said in the report.  

"I am shocked and heartbroken by what the children living in the refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar are facing instead,” he added. “They aren’t asking for much. Lights to make it safe for them to go to the toilet at night. Adequate shelters to provide privacy so they don’t have to sleep in the same room as strangers. Better access to education."


Defend the Planet

Frightened Elephants Have Killed 10 Rohingya Refugees

By Joe McCarthy