Life as a Refugee in Bangladesh.
I am Hasmat Ullah, a long-term survivor of the Rohingya refugee crisis. In the light of the International Declaration of Human Rights, I am telling my story and the tragic life of the Rohingya refugees who are forced to reside in the hostile Bangladesh refugee camps, many of whom have been there since 1992.
I am a Rohingya refugee and postgraduate in Law. Due to my relentless quest to become educated I have suffered in countless ways. I and my family currently face barriers just because I am a Rohingya refugee and postgraduate scholar from another community. My persecution has been ongoing since 1992. I have twice been headlined in local newspapers: “Rohingya Boy is studying here in primary education and entrance examination”. Following this headline in 2006, the school authority acted against me and revoked my admission. I faced constant discrimination from the local people who attempted to create a barrier to my continued schooling. In school, my classmates always made fun of me. It was horrible. Despite all hostilities, I have not given up my quest to succeed, but I face the continued mental and physical danger that confronts all refugees who attempt to better their future.
Due to the discrimination I shifted from my first school to another and continued my study until I passed the examination of matriculation in 2013. To continue my further studies, I went to Chittagong to take a course on Computer Skill Development for one month. When the authority of the school discovered I was a Rohingya boy, I was arrested. They came for me in the middle of the night, this happened on 12 December 2013. The authorities kept me in their custody under Sitakunda Thana of the Chittagong District the whole night, with nothing to eat or drink. The next day, I was sent to the Chittagong Central Jail. I was in prison for 3 long months. I was tortured in unspeakable ways. What they did to me was really disgusting. When my family were informed about my custody, they called the UNHCR for help. After 3 months I finally got bail. Due to the three months delay I was dropped from the admission deadline of the college for one year. I got my admission in the following year 2014. In 2016 I completed my Higher Secondary Certificate (HSC) examination. My family could not afford to bear the cost of my study, so in order to continue I was appointed as house tutor in the residential areas where I had been living while I was studying. I have not been deterred from my quest; I am a hard-working Rohingya student with strong willingness to continue my learning at any cost. After overcoming many barriers and obstructions I completed my bachelor degree and hope to complete a Masters.
I wish to emphasis that my attempts to become highly educated, especially in law have put me and my family in grave danger. My attempts to publish critiques of the Government’s policies and, in particular, the refugee system have led to many challenges that include racial and intellectual discrimination. I am banned from attending important political and scholarly events and both I and my family have received death threats. Despite these threats I am driven to making known the shocking and inhumane treatment that continues to plague the Rohingya people.
My family left Myanmar in 1992, but my story is only a small incident in a long running genocide against the Rohingya people. We have been fleeing the violence and killing for more than thirty years and are now among the most persecuted people in the world with almost a million Rohingya residing in the Bangladesh refugee camps.
My family left Myanmar in 1992 to be obviated from the oppression and torture carried out by Myanmar’s illegal junta. The main reason behind leaving Myanmar was that one of my elder brothers was brutally murdered by the Myanmar regime. According to my parents, my brother was shot dead at the age of four months. The murder was part of a terrorist campaign against my family because my father used to teach the Muslim religion in our small hamlet. My family left Myanmar and took shelter in the Nayapara Registered Camp under Teknaf Thana, in Cox’s Bazar District under the division of Chittagong in Bangladesh. The name of the region Teknaf comes from the Naf River which forms the eastern boundary and it shares a border with Myanmar. My parents now live in the Kutupalong Registered Refugees Camp under Ukhiya Thana, which is also in Cox’s Bazar District.
I was born in the refugees camp and I have been fortunate in gaining a higher education. The Rohingya are greatly restricted from accessing provisional education beyond class five and private education is strictly banned. According to a document issued by the Peoples Republic of Bangladesh in 2021 learning can only take place under very strict guidelines:
“Teaching of anything related to the Bangladesh culture must be prohibited in the learning centres including how to draw the national flag of Bangladesh, how to write and speak Bangla and most importantly the national culture of Bangladesh.” All rhymes, storybooks and poems must be published in the Burmese language.”
As a result of the excessive restrictions, it is very difficult for the Rohingya to access higher education, indeed, the Bangladesh government consider it a crime to become an educated Rohingya person. Notwithstanding, by hiding all of my identifications I have completed my primary, secondary and higher education as a Rohingya refugee. Nonetheless, there is no way of building a career based on my qualifications, there is therefore no security. As Rohingya we are still made to feel inferior. It is for this reason that I feel compelled to write about the oppression I have both experienced and witnessed in the refugee camps in Bangladesh.
In the South Asia sub-continent, the Rohingya are known as an uncivilized community. The Myanmar government does not recognize the Rohingya’s right to citizenship so we have been marginalized, denied education and any freedom of movement. We have had no voice, no ability to speak out or to seek our right to freedom and it has been like this for decades. Further, Bangladesh is perceived as supporting this oppressive view, this is to say, the Rohingya should be socially, economically and spiritually constrained and segregated in the camps and not permitted to mingle with the Bangladesh population. This situation has led to a loss of dignity and the immense deprivation of almost one million people who are punished daily for simply being Rohingya. The Rohingya living in the camps are faced with continual brutality and humiliation, which is a gross violation of their human rights. Myanmar’s brutal regime completely diminished the Rohingya’s rights to access higher education and our ability to survive and instituted an indiscriminate regime of genocide.
The Rohingya were a free and independent nation from 1430 till 1784. For an estimated 350 years, the Arakan (the current Rakhine state in Myanmar) was a free land. All we have now is a few memorable days kept aside for the next generation so the painful events of war and dispossession are not forgotten. We remember them jointly on days such as 28th December (Black Day), 25th August (Genocide Remembrance Day), and 4th January (National Independence Day). We celebrate these days by jointly organizing peaceful meetings and demonstrations in the camp, but the local authority obstruct us from carrying out our celebrations. When we raise our voice we are arrested and sent to detention centres (jail). We have no rights to appeal, we have no rights at all. Each of the tenants of Human Rights Charter and those of International Law are put aside because we are not considered worthy of protection.
The refugee camps are not places of sanctuary; they are prisons. The Rohingya residential areas are encased with barbed wire, there is no freedom of movement and no escape. The buildings are dangerous and volatile. When the flimsy bamboo shelters catch fire, there is no way to avoid the fire, the Rohingya are trapped and some die in ongoing disasters. In short, we Rohingya are treated like caged birds. We have no right to life, liberty or security, we are beholden to the whims and abuses of the host government, including the alleged persecution of the individual Rohingyas who stand up for justice and the spreading of fake news that is designed to destroy the reputation of our entire community.
Our movements are curtailed by the armed peacekeeping forces. Many refugees have alleged that the armed peacekeeping forces inside the camp, incite lawlessness with the over-use of securitization towards the Rohingya refugees. This appears to be true. Allow me to give you an example. When a Rohingya chooses to go to the market to buy essential goods for making meals they must cross the check point of Armed Police Batallion (APBn). This inspection includes the checking of personal items such as smartphones and wallets. If refugees have money in their wallets, it is alleged that the authorities look for ways to embezzle the money. Refugees allege that they constantly have money stolen by the authorities.
In the evening, after 6:00 pm, the authorities forcibly claim money for the crossing of the check point. Inside the camp after 6: 30 pm (BDT: Local time) going from one hut to another is totally banned This curfew is strongly enforced. If anyone is caught outside their shelter beyond the specified time, he or she is badly beaten by the peacekeeping forces. These beatings are frequent and people are often sent to the jail where time allows for the wounds to heal so public scrutiny is largely diminished. In the name of peace keeping these authorities are allegedly creating lawlessness inside the refugee camp in order to present the Rohingya people as primitive, uncivilized and lawless. To this end, the genocide of the Rohingya people is continued, fastidiously and covertly inside the camp.
For the refugee, life often seems hopeless. All human beings need to be able to work in order to have a sense of fulfillment. There is little opportunity to work for a wage in the camp and the few who do work are grossly exploited. Wages do not cover the cost of food and other necessary items. The only means of feeding oneself and a family is the Rohingya Food Distribution Card. In accordance with this card and its associated rules, the supply of food is so limited that there is not enough food to sustain a healthy life for anyone. As a result, due to the low nutritive supply of food, all Rohingya refugees more or less suffer from various kinds of incurable disorders such as malnutrition and people are susceptible (and die from) many curable diseases.
Food distribution centers hand out food once a month, either at the beginning of the month or during the last week of the month, based on their choice. The following food items are distributed: rice, sugar, oil, pulse, potatoes, cabbage and sometimes dry fish. People can only get food using the Food Distribution Card. No card, no food! Many families go for days without food and they are forced to beg or borrow. Added to this, the frequency and amount of food distributed is not sufficient for a big family. Clean drinking water is also in short supply. In the summer months this becomes a crisis in clean water distribution. In the rainy season water is easily contaminated with water borne diseases and much of the camp is severely flooded and prone to landslides.
Similarly, clothing is insufficient for the temperatures. We have to purchase our own clothing or rely on charities and second-hand clothes. Sometimes, non- government organizations (NG0s distribute blankets in the winter and on very rare occasion second hand winter clothes.
All human beings need proper medical care at some time in their lives. The medical situation for refugees is untenable. Prenatal care for women is limited which leads to complications at birth. According to the US National Library of Medicine and the National Centre for Biotechnology information Women and girls represented 52% of the over 900,000 Rohingya refugees living in refugee camps in Bangladesh. Between September 2017 and August 2018, 52 maternal deaths out of 82 pregnancy-related deaths occurred within these camps.
Serious conditions such as cancer are not treatable in the camp and referral to a major hospital is a lengthy and difficult process. Medical staff are largely provided by the host community who are believed to be biased towards the Rohingya, hence many complaints of hostility are made by against staff, but they are not addressed by any form of independent judiciary. Medical facilities are grossly limited, beds are few and far between, which in turn opens the way preferential treatment and corruption. With this in mind, the Bangladesh government are alleged to be carrying out the same lack of neutrality as that perpetrated by the Myanmar government.
Clearly, the Bangladesh government want a fast solution to the refugee crisis, which is predicated on the return of the Rohingya to Myanmar. However, Myanmar is currently engaged in civil war and still carrying out a genocide against the Rohingya people. Such a return would constitute refoulment, which is illegal under International Law.
Bangladesh did not shoulder the burden of refugees willingly and hostility towards the refugees has gown. Over time the deprivation of refugees in the camps has led to a number of social problem such as drugs, crime and human trafficking. In addition. very few refugees have found resettlement in third nations because western countries have been unwilling to increase their intake of refugees who are Muslims. Bangladesh is a Muslim country and those refugees who have been living in Bangladesh since 1992 have become almost the same as the Bengali people, both in language, culture and in behaviour. The best solution for a vast majority of refugees would be the gradual assimilation of them into the Bangladesh community with the same rights and privileges as all other Bangladesh citizens.
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