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Uncertainty shadows the Rohingya in Bangladesh’s Kutupalong refugee camp

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Mohammed Nikaruzzaman, the sub-district officer in charge of Kutupalong, can never forget the sight that he witnessed on September 6, 2017. That rainy evening, while driving towards the hill that is known for elephants and other wild animals, he saw a sea of humanity standing quietly in the dark. This was the moment when the magnitude of the Rohingya refugee crisis became clear to him. Men and women of all ages, with many children and pregnant women, were emerging from the forest that divides Bangladesh from Myanmar.

“Thousands upon thousands of Rohingya had arrived on Cox’s Bazaar-Teknaf highways and they were sitting there in the dark as the rain hit them. It’s a difficult to forget that image,” said the young officer, who has been at the forefront of Dhaka’s humongous effort to manage the biggest village of displaced international refugees anywhere in the world.

Dangerous journey

Within days it became apparent that the Myanmar military’s campaign that had initially pushed a trickle of Rohingya population from Myanmar to Bangladesh, had intensified its campaign and that the Rohingya community had to undertake the dangerous journey through the forest and hills to reach Bangladesh.

And with the refugees came tales of horror. Jomila, a 35-year-old mother of a teenager, said the Myanmar military had hacked her son and husband to death.

“It began with the arrival of the Myanmar military outside our villages. After that the military set up units outside every neighbourhood or village. They said it was to make us opt for the Population Verification Cards (PVCs) but it was obvious that they wanted to control our daily activities. Then one night they attacked all villages,” said Mohammed Jafar, narrating the climax of the crisis in the Rakhine province of Myanmar.

Prompt action

Bangladesh acted swiftly. Government officials like Mr. Nikaruzzaman rolled out an immunisation programme for the ever-swelling number of the refugees. “We were concerned about outbreak of cholera and diphtheria and immediately carried out mass immunisation programmes,” he said.

The authorities opened 12 food distribution centres where the refugees would get prepared food. As Bangladesh sent out appeals for global help to save the fleeing Rohingya, many countries including Turkey, India, Australia and relief agencies like the UNHCR, Red Cross responded.

Preventing disease

With the help of friends, Bangladesh carried out the biggest anti-open defecation campaign and 52,000 toilets were built in the hilly areas of Kutupalong.

Apart from the toilets, an vast settlement of tiny hutments came up on the red mud hills of Kutupalong. As a result of the massive relief and rehabilitation, there are 30 camps of Rohingya refugees spread over 6,000 acres for 1.2 million displaced people.

The Rohingya in Rakhine under attack from the Myanmar military had to flee with whatever they could save. The scar of that massacre will not go away anytime soon. But for now at least 1.2 million Rohingya refugees are staying in the sprawling refugee camps in the hills of Kutupalong. They are far from home, but at least for now they are safe.

“We are safe now. But we will go back if Myanmar gives us assurance of giving us our rights and guarantees security,” said Mohammed Jafar.


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Printable version | Jun 24, 2021 3:48:45 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/uncertainty-shadows-the-rohingya-in-bangladeshs-kutupalong-refugee-camp/article25145560.ece

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