Nurul Amin has spent nearly five years in the Kutupalong refugee camps near the border of Bangladesh and Myanmar where green hills meet the Bay of Bengal. Five years ago, he worked with a Norwegian NGO in Maungdaw of Rakhine state, where the Myanmar military carried out a campaign that made normal living impossible for the members of the Rohingya community.
To escape the daily threat of murder and violence, Mr. Amin rowed his way along with others crossing rivers and the Bay of Bengal. “We could not use boats with engines because the Myanmar military would shoot at the boats. To survive, we took the boats with oars,” Mr. Amin said, recollecting his escape.
He has been living with his family of six in Kutupalong, where they took refuge after crossing the waters. But five years later, they see no hope for a return.
The Myanmar that the Rohingya left behind in August 2017 has changed. On February 1, 2021, Myanmar witnessed a military coup and the previous government led by Aung San Suu Kyi was dislodged by the military junta. Ms. Suu Kyi, a Nobel peace prize winner, was criticised for being cold toward the Rohingya crisis but the future appears bleaker during the military’s rule as the country remains caught in a violent internal conflict and is boycotted in international platforms.
Exodus from Rakhine
Beginning with the early 1990s, the Rohingya left Rakhine in multiple waves to escape the violent campaigns launched by the military. Over the years, the situation became increasingly difficult for the community. Mohammed Amin, who worked as a teacher in a madarsa, remembered that the Myanmar military would raid homes and demand money. “We had to pay the local officials even if we wanted to own cows and goats,” he said.
The haunting memories refuse to go away for the Rohingya who have been living in the relative safety of the refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar but they have become part of another kind of problem. Security officials in Bangladesh have observed that some community members have become a safe conduit for the smuggling of Yaba, an expensive recreational drug.
Yaba, a combination of methamphetamine and caffeine, produces powerful effects and the Rohingya who are proficient in languages on both sides of the border provide an efficient way to disseminate this drug, say security officials.
Many within the community, like Nurul Amin, are working to address the problem the community faces, which includes the denial of education, influence of radicalism and links with criminal gangs.
The hills in Kutupalong were deforested to make space for the Rohingya but over the last five years, refugees have planted trees that have brought the green cover back to some degree.
The world may be busy dealing with the war in Ukraine but the Rohingya are waiting for repatriation to Rakhine state, where they want to live in safety, with dignity. “Every one of us wants to return. The international community should come forward to help,” said Mr. Nurul Amin.
The writer was in Bangladesh on an invitation from the government.