In September 2017, the writer visited the largest Rohingya refugee camp in Kutupalong, Ukhiya, for the first time. Learning from the media and listening directly from the victims are two completely different things. As many traumatised Rohingya women and children shared their story of horrors, it felt sickening.
“When we first arrived at our refugee camp – one of many set ups in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh – I thought we would be back home in Myanmar after two or three months. My house has since been long gone, burnt to ashes,” shared Khin Maung, a Rohingya man. He still can’t believe that they would stay here for this long.
It has been four years since around one million Rohingya refugees began living in Ukhiya and Teknaf, Cox’s Bazar.
Khin Maung mentioned his disappointment over the global community as he expected that the Myanmar government might take them back due to the pressure created by the community. However, he didn’t forget to thank Bangladesh.
“We must thank and show sincere gratitude to the government of Bangladesh for their generosity to provide them shelter in Bangladesh.”
Total 60 per cent of Rohingya refugees are women and children. A great number of children were born here in the refugee camps in Bangladesh in the last four years. Thousands of young people are ideally sitting in the camps without doing any productive work. They haven’t had a chance to start formal education following the Rohingya curriculum.
Girls are getting married before reaching 18 years. There were several study reports on gender-based violence (GBV) which were conducted by UN and humanitarian agencies. Those reports showed that GBV rates are high among Rohingya refugees in camps. Most gender-based violence is perpetrated by intimate partners. This is creating mental issues among the children. If those children stay in camps for a longer time without proper education, irreparable damage will be done to the next generation.
Since March 2020, Rohingya refugees are going through a lockdown situation to slow down the spread of Covid-19. From March 2021, the government imposed a strict lockdown across 34 camps in Ukhia and Teknaf, Cox’s Bazar.
However, humanitarian agencies are allowed to implement lifesaving work such as health, Covdi-19 awareness situations, food, wash, and disaster related interventions.
Recently, the government of Bangladesh just ended a ten days long Covid-19 vaccination campaign in the camps which is a good initiative. Around 36,943 Rohingya refugees aged 55+ received the first dose of the vaccine across the 34 camps at Cox’s Bazar.
When Rohingya refugees arrived in Kutupalong, Balukhali in Ukhiya, locals welcomed them with a big heart initially. But gradually it is becoming a burden; this humanitarian crisis is affecting local communities’ lives and livelihoods which might turn the locals hostile, if not has turned already.
Donors, UN agencies, humanitarian agencies, and NGOs must pay equal attention to the local communities as well so that the social cohesion exists and they can live in peace till Rohingya Refugees go back to their homeland.
As of now, Myanmar is telling us the repatriation process may take place. Regional and global communities must play their part now to make it happen and let the Rohingya refugees realise their dream and create a safe zone in Rakhine state so that they can return to their country with dignity and voluntarily.
At the same time, the government of Bangladesh must continue its strong diplomacy with regional and global communities to keep this agenda alive.
This crisis seems to be ready to last for a long time. Hence, a long-term and comprehensive plan is needed. Policy makers and humanitarian actors need to think collectively and alternatively on the set of interventions to progressively realise durable solutions.
However, immediate need is the reduction of the sufferings of Rohingya refugees and the local communities as they are staying in the same neighborhood. Rohingya children and youths need immediate access to education.
Also, the government of Bangladesh, donors, the UN, and humanitarian agencies must work together to make sure both communities are having equal opportunities to grow, learn and have a peaceful life.
Shabira Nupur is a policy advocacy specialist.