Being stateless

Wafiur Rahman
Wednesday, October 4th, 2017


Some snippets of life for the displaced Rohingya community in the refugee camps.


The recent military offensive in Myanmar’s Rakhine state has led to a fresh set of mass exodus into Bangladeshi territory. But this time, reportedly half of the Rohingya Muslim population has been displaced as a result of the crackdown, which stemmed from allegations of a group of Rohingya extremists attacking security checkpoints across the country last August.


A steady influx of Rohingya is streaming into the country through the Teknaf border with each passing day. The contingent primarily consists of the elderly, women and children – as men are left behind to fend for themselves till they can come over to Bangladesh, or in most cases, have already been killed or left for dead, as per the statements given by their loved ones to the media.


During our course of reporting, several aspects caught our attention, which are highly reminiscent of wartime refugee camps. The plight for food, basic amenities, and healthcare depicts a sorry state of affairs for the Rohingya, as they are not recognised as citizens of their own country (despite living there for generations). After forcefully getting evicted by the Myanmar army, they are now rendered “stateless” and languishing in the Teknaf refugee camps. Several experiences are pieced together to depict a larger picture of displacement.


Anguish for aid


Ten year old Jami arrived in Balukhali refugee camp on September 6. He told Dhaka Courier that getting food or relief materials has become increasingly difficult as more and more people are flocking to the camps in thousands, on a daily basis. The group of children he plays with everyday is increasing once in a while, as they consist of those from his village of Nazir Para in Maungdaw Township of the Rakhine state. He also added that mostly women and children came over from Maungdaw to Shah Porir Dwip, the journey of which took 4 days, starting in the late hours of the night. This was because Jami said he had heard from others that the Myanmar Border Guard Police (BGP) had begun shooting at those who used to flee past them during daytime.


Jami, along with his friends and scores of women, were later seen squatting in queue for getting aid. Members of the armed forces were dishing out commands and instructions as to who could proceed in line, who had to wait behind, etc. The relief materials came from a local madrasah in Jatrabari, Dhaka, which consisted of toast biscuits, mosquito nets, blanket covers, etc. The madrasah officials mentioned that the previous day they had distributed dates, saline, milk and jaggery to almost 10,000 people. The surge of Rohingya in line was overwhelming to say the least, with members of the armed forces trying to order them into maintaining discipline. Armed with a small cane stick, they have been instructed only to wave it at the masses and not using them under any circumstances.


A packet of toast biscuit was the only thing Jami could muster amidst the distribution. Regretting that he could not carry anything else, given his puny arms, he said that it would last only a day, or two at best – given how this will feed his mother, his sister and his younger brother. When asked whether he would get any biscuits from the share, his long stare said all that was needed to be said.

Health check


Almost all the major national and international aid agencies have set up makeshift establishments near the refugee camps, including those dedicated for health care, such as the French Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), World Health Organization (WHO), Dhaka’s Gana Shasthya Kendra and more. They are mainly teaming up with local doctors and compounders, going on to establish medical checkup points at several locations across the camps in Ukhia and Teknaf. In one such camp in Balukhali, doctors of MSF and doctors of the Army Medical Corps were looking at a queue of over hundreds of patients. With scarce medicines and resources, they usually dished out basic medicines for diarrhea, fever, cold, etc, and in worst cases, offered to take the patients to Cox’s Bazar district hospital for more serious patients.


Talking to Dhaka Courier, the commanding officer of the medical camp in Balukhali (requesting to remain anonymous) said that they had utlised the Rohingya close to the camp to construct toilets and tube wells from the third week of September, after much camping survey, for safer sanitary means. As a result of constructing those, the concerned Rohingya were provided with food and relief tokens for a few days, which acted as incentives for those who could work.


As in charge of the southwestern Kutupalong control cell, he said he could manage to coordinate the aid and medical help for 5000 families, mostly with baby food, basic food for women and children and such. He also added that they were aided by the fine doctors of MSF, the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TIKA), cooked food from UNHCR and others. As far as pregnant women issues were concerned, the Army Medical Corps would forward those to MSF, who had established a one-stop centre for pregnant women in Ukhia.


The journey to become stateless


Asking questions to an incoming Rohingya at Shah Porir Dwip under the drizzling rain was not the best, but when they saw notepads and cameras, they could vent their fear and hopelessness in a few words, to say the least. The ones fleeing Myanmar can watch from inside Bangladesh as the homes in their nearby villages go up in flames.


Flames could be seen only about 500 meters (yards) from the border fence. “You see this fire today, that is my village,” said Farid Alam, one of the Rohingya. When they crossed the border into Bangladesh, they saw land mines that had been newly planted by Myanmar forces, he said.


“We fled to Bangladesh to save our lives,” said a man who only gave his first name, Karim. “The military and extremist Rakhine are burning us, burning us, killing us, setting our village on fire.” He said he paid 12,000 Bangladeshi taka, or about $150, for his family to be smuggled on a wooden boat to Bangladesh after soldiers killed 110 Rohingya in their village of Kunnapara, near the coastal town of Maungdaw. “The military destroyed everything. After killing some Rohingya, the military burned their houses and shops,” he said. “We have a baby who is 8 days only, and an old woman who is 105.”


As we began to walk deeper into Shah Porir Dwip, we saw a steady flow of incoming Rohingya regardless of the drizzling rain. Barefoot and with little belongings, they were being directed by a group of volunteers, who came from Mymensingh district in an effort to help in any way that they could. Hence, their instructions were to receive the Rohingya from the sandy shores of Shah Porir Dwip and escort them from one vantage point to another, where another group of volunteers led them to take shelter at a primary school in the village, where we went to see how things were like for Rohingya to return to normalcy after days of walking and trekking through the jungle. We found mostly women, children and elderly people waiting for local transportation, which would take them to a trawler across the river, from where another batch of volunteers would give them some money to buy bare necessities and show them the path to the nearest refugee camp.

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