© bdnews24.com/muhammad mostafigur rahman
Living without hope is dangerous. This is the feeling I get in Kutupalong camp in Cox’s Bazar, the world’s largest settlement of people displaced by violence.
The crisis that began in Myanmar in late August 2017 was the worst to affect the Rohingya people.
The violence—termed “ethnic cleansing” by the UN—forced the mostly stateless community to flee Rakhine, the remote northern state they called home.
This massive exodus has led to one million refugees in Bangladesh. But what does this arrival mean for this South Asian nation?
Not long ago, the world knew Bangladesh mostly as a country exposed to natural disasters and poverty. That makes its emergence as a generous host in the wake of renewed violence in Rakhine doubly impressive.
The Rohingya exodus also came with a unique global backdrop.
A year before this exodus, the worldwide population of forcibly displaced people climbed to 65 million, including 28 million children.
Boats filled with migrants and refugees, risking their lives for safer shores, were drowning in the Mediterranean.
The desperation of people fleeing homes torn by conflict or poverty changed how some countries viewed border control and security.
But Bangladesh, it can be safely said, in sheltering the Rohingya has raised the bar for generosity. It has emerged as one of the biggest donors in this crisis.
In long queues, the Rohingya refugees emerged out of every crack in Myanmar’s border with southern Bangladesh—exhausted, bringing with them whatever they could carry.
The sight was shocking, and sparked a global response for urgent aid, setting the foundation for a mammoth emergency operation in Cox’s Bazar, the southern district where the refugees were arriving in a continuous flow.
Showing humanity, Bangladesh let the Rohingya enter its borders, paving the way for massive responsibilities. This came at a time when the country was headed towards a long-awaited promotion of status, from ‘least developed’ to ‘developing’.
In another big move, the country freed thousands of acres of forestland for setting up shelters and the Rohingya dug their bamboo huts into these cleared hills.
Bangladesh bears the cost of administering these mega settlements, deploying its army for building roads and bridges to make the terrain less hostile towards camp inhabitants and aid workers.
It even provided loans to some food aid agencies distributing relief, cutting down dramatically the logistics cost of bringing in supply from overseas.
When the Rohingya exodus started in late August 2017, Bangladesh was still reeling from a devastating flood that claimed many lives, homes and crops.
By Bangladesh, one means both people and government. In the toughest first days of the emergency response, ordinary Bangladeshis poured into Cox’s Bazar to hand out relief they had collected from the cities and townships.
Heights of humanity
Rohingya children formed 60 percent of the over 671,000 new Rohingya refugees that entered Bangladesh.
For these children, the first proper contact with the outside world would take place in Bangladesh.
Just weeks into the start of the exodus, UNICEF along with its partners undertook massive drives to vaccinate children against measles, cholera and diphtheria.
Branching out from the old registered camp, UNICEF set up learning centres and child-friendly spaces for Rohingya children.
Latrines, bathhouses, tube-wells, water treatment plants, faecal sludge management systems—all were set up to make life easier in the camps.
At UNICEF’s child-friendly spaces, Rohingya children expressed their trauma in the form of drawings depicting the violence that they witnessed in Rakhine state.
In the temporary learning centres, over 80,000 refugee children attend regular classes learning Burmese, English and mathematics.
The Rohingya children deserve more. They form a generation of children, who once back in Rakhine, will symbolise and hopefully act upon the positivity they encountered in Bangladesh.
Bangladesh has been very generous to the Rohingya refugees. It may choose to further its generosity by expanding the reach of multi-lingual education for Rohingya children.
These displaced community deserves refugee status and those born in the camps really need to have their birth registered.
The Rohingyas risk disease or conflict in the dense settlements. There is a desperate need for more land.
Despite all its achievements, Bangladesh also needs global partners to push for the rights and safety of the Rohingya.
Despite all aid efforts, these hundreds and thousands of people will continue to wake up to a state of limbo.
There is not much time left before the South Asian monsoon brings its devastating consequences for the Rohingya settlements on the cleared hills.
The world must respond to calls for support in achieving voluntary, safe and dignified repatriation to Myanmar for the Rohingyas.
Until then, we all have a responsibility to provide hope to the Rohingyas: by expanding education, protection and health services to more and more Rohingya children.
Edouard Beigbeder is UNICEF Representative in Bangladesh