Rohingya in Cox's Bazar camps, the most persecuted refugees on earth (photos)
by Sumon Corraya

The camps do not have drinking water, gas or wood for cooking. Refugees are surviving as best they can, and often get into illegal activities. After 4 pm, when the camps are closed to outside visitors, illegal trades begin. Our envoy sends a report.

Cox's Bazaar (AsiaNews) – In Cox's Bazar, a narrow strip of land on the Bangladeshi side of the border with Myanmar, Rohingya refugees continue to suffer for lack of clean drinking water, food and medicine. Refugees found shelter in the hill region but fear floods and landslides, typical of the monsoon season. AsiaNews’s correspondent visited the camps and gathered stories about the hardships of everyday life.

Meanwhile, Myanmar has announced that it is ready to repatriate Rohingya Muslim refugees after verifying their identity. State Councillor Aung San Suu Kyi made the point yesterday during an hour-long meeting with a delegation from the UN Security Council.

The refugees fled to Bangladesh after renewed hostilities in Myanmar State of Rakhine. UN officials have called for a proper investigation into the atrocities committed by Myanmar forces against the Rohingya.

An agreement to return the approximately 700,000 Rohingya refugees was reached in November 2017 and the first repatriations were supposed to start in January. But the process is moving slowly because of resistance and red tape. In mid-April, Bangladeshi authorities provided a list of about 8,000 people eligible for repatriation. So far, Myanmar officials have verified the identity of only 700.

The Rohingya are the most persecuted refugees on earth as evinced by what can be seen in the camps in Cox's Bazar. They face a number of problems: landslides caused by rain, high temperatures, lack of clean drinking water, food such as greens, meat and fish, but also of wood and gas for cooking.

In Camp n. 4 in Ukhiya we met Jafor Hosain. "We are worried about our lives,” he said. “Monsoon rains are coming and we do not know how we can escape landslides."

Spending the afternoon outside the small tent that shelters him, he said that "It is difficult to stay inside with no electricity to reduce the heat. And the night we cannot sleep well either.”

In the same camp, a teenager carried some wood on his shoulders even though he knows it is illegal to cut wood in the forest. "We get some help with the distribution of rice, sugar and oil, but we do not have firewood to cook; this is why I'm going to get it [wood]," he said.

Naimuddin Hasan, a tea seller, noted that some NGOs have started to provide gas cylinders in the camps, "but they are totally inadequate. For this we cut the trees."

Since they arrived, the Rohingya have cut down more than 1,500 acres of forest, said a government official. Timber is mainly used to build makeshift shelters and as fuel.

An NGO activist noted that most refugees who arrived since last August are out of work and cannot leave the camps. However, some young people have found work by serving in social organisations as paid volunteers or teachers.

The lack of work has led to crime. According to local media, in the last eight months, refugees have been involved in 16 homicides and another 148 injuries within the camps. Many experts believe that Bangladeshi authorities should create jobs right away to keep the refugees busy and prevent illegal activities.

An anonymous source said that bad things proliferate after 4 pm, when journalists, NGO workers and other professionals are no longer allowed to stay in camps.

Not far from the tents there is an open-air market with many items at discounted prices – even the Rohingya come to stock up.

"I got 36 bars of soap from a non-governmental association,” said one woman, “then rice, lentils and oil from other charitable organisations. I sold everything in the market and managed to buy meat and fish, which no one ever gives us."

"A week ago, the monsoons arrived and the rain got into houses,” said Syad Amin, another displaced young man. “This has caused various problems. We are really worried about becoming victims of landslides if the rains last a long time. The refugees should be moved out of the hills.”

In his view, “We also have problems with the lack of water, no playgrounds for children, nor anything about birth control."