About 35000 refugees live in two official camps, Kutupalong and Nayapara. The camps are located in Cox’s Bazaar in southern Bangladesh and are under the assistance of the UNHCR, but under control by the Bangladesh government. They were established in 1992 when a great number of Rohingya people fled to Bangladesh to save their lives from Myanmar state sponsored persecution. For more than two decades they have been living as refugees. In these two official camps UNHCR provides basic food, medical aid, and primary education for refugee children; but there is no access to higher education for refugees. Recently, the government has devised a plan to relocate the two official camps to an island name Hatiya. Though most registered refugees are not aware of this plan, some refugees are worried about their lives being imperiled if the relocation is implemented. The concern is that climate change is affecting the island and dangerous flooding often occurs.
According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), there are more than 200,000 Rohingya in Bangladesh today, including more than 90,000 unregistered refugees living in two unofficial camps, called “Kutupalong Makeshift” and “Leda”. In these two unofficial camps refugees are living under miserable and vulnerable situations as they are unprotected and currently have no humanitarian aid of any kind. They are not receiving minimum fundamental rights in direct violation of international human rights law. Bangladeshi authorities view unregistered refugees as illegal intruders. The UNHCR has not been allowed to register newly arriving Rohingya since mid-1992. The majority of Rohingya live in different places throughout Bangladesh and the UNHCR is only allowed to assist those who are registered. As a result, most of these unregistered refugees are suffering; basic food, medical care and safety are not available thus creating an insecure and vulnerable life. Refugees in Bangladesh face many restrictions and problems. There is no freedom of movement and constant fear of being arrested. Many local people intimidate and exert power over the refugees and they rob and physically attack them. In addition vulnerable refugee women are often raped by the locals.
The United Nations have described Rohingya people as one of the most persecuted nation on this planet. The Rohingya issue has been a long standing problem, but unfortunately the international community has been mute and has not taken a strong role to help resolve this problem. Inside Myanmar, Rohingya owned lands are being confiscated and they are denied citizenship status. Under these circumstances, the Rohingya feel hopeless and are unable to help themselves, thus, they are fleeing to different countries. Since they do not have any other means to escape they turn to human traffickers who often put them on boats to take perilous journeys across the water. Recently mass graves were found in Thailand and Malaysia. Many of the trafficking victims were tortured to death when they are unable to pay demanded ransom by brokers.
Bangladesh always refuses to receive any more refugees as it is an over populated country and one of the poorest on earth. So during communal violence in 2012, the Bangladesh government sealed its border to prevent any further influx into the country. At the same time some asylum seekers were sent back to Myanmar, some of them died in the sea without food and it drew criticism by the international community. Bangladesh is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention or its 1967 Protocol. This chronic refugee crisis for the Rohingya is long overdue for a solution. While the Bangladeshi government has been accommodating to a certain point, considering their limited resources and the poor conditions their own population lives under, they are not able to resolve the issues alone.
Meanwhile, an entire generation of refugee children have grown up in the camps with no means to achieve self-reliance and no hope for a future. Having no rights to higher education and no permission to work out in the community, they spend their days without purpose. This lost generation is a wasted and latent talent with very little hope of contributing to the improvement of the world outside the camp and yet, even though they are often depressed, they rally themselves and try to remain hopeful and contribute to the welfare of their community. So, the resolution to the refugee dilemma cannot be achieved by the government of Bangladesh alone and the government of Myanmar has shown that it is unwilling to grant equal rights to the Rohingya; therefore, the international community should take action. The Rohingyan people are powerless without the voice and support of the international community.
The author is camp leader of Kutupalong refugee camp