Cox’s Bazar (Bangladesh)
On a bumpy dirt road towards Cox’s Bazar, a seaside resort in southern Bangladesh but above all the gateway to the Rohingya refugee camps, Bithi, Shah and Ahmed * show some signs of anxiety. To get out of Camp 19 – one of 34 in the Kutupalong complex – the three young men had to lie to the Bangladeshi authorities. Getting a breath of fresh air can cost them dearly: a prison sentence or a beating by the police.
Each camp is surrounded by barbed wire. It is strictly forbidden to move from one camp to another or to leave it except for medical reasons. “I work at 19, my family lives at 10. I am not allowed to see them, so I manage to give the guards a little ticket so that they let me sneak in,” explains Ahmed, 19. The barbed wire was not there until February 2021. “
Bangladesh suffered very strict containment during the pandemic, and the Rohingya camps were no exception. While “One year and two months, we lived confined in our camps, with little food and deplorable hygiene”, says Noor Sadeque, 21. The young activist taps on his cell phone for a few seconds, looks up with a hint of anger and adds: “As refugees, the future looks bleak to us. “
Since the coup d’état of 1er February 2021 by the Burmese army which ousted former leader Aung San Suu Kyi, the Rohingya’s hope of returning home has become very slim. The release in March of Buddhist monk Ashin Wirathu, an ultranationalist spreading hateful messages against their Muslim minority confirmed their fears.
“For the moment, they have no possibility of return, says Arnaud *, director of an NGO not yet registered in Bangladesh. And the Bangladeshi government doesn’t want them either. This is why many NGOs, like mine, are not listed in Cox’s Bazar. ” Since 2017, a dozen organizations have been acting in the shadows to help the Rohingya cause, but tensions continue to grow in the camps despite the help they provide.
2021 will be remembered as a pivotal year for the Rohingya. In addition to the putsch in Burma, on February 1, a fire in four camps left 45,000 families homeless, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR). Then, on September 29, one of the main Rohingya leaders, Mohib Ullah, was assassinated. “He denounced the violence in the camps and fought for the human rights of refugees”, according to Saad Hammadi, from Amnesty International.
His loss is “A tragedy for the Rohingyas, confirms Kysar Hamid, 27, executive director of the NGO Youth Alliance for International Sustainable Development, in Cox’s Bazar. They no longer have anyone to bring them together, and that doesn’t bode well for the future. “
But the main concern for the refugees concerns Bhasan Char, an island 60 km from the coast of Bangladesh, developed since 2017 by the government to displace 100,000 Rohingyas and free up some space in the camps of Cox’s Bazar. As of December 2020, around 20,000 people have been living there.
“We are told that most are desperate. Some died trying to get back to Cox’s Bazar, Shah * gets angry. I don’t want to go, this place is a prison. “ Kysar Hamid nuance: “The houses on the island are made of concrete, the inhabitants can fish, train in certain trades, and the electricity works better. “ Arnaud corroborates: “This is not a bad solution. But the island is not immune to cyclones. “
NGO opinions diverge on Bhasan Char. One thing is certain, the Rohingyas do not want to hear about it, but they have little choice. Who will be next ? When will they leave? No one knows.