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Field report: Bangladesh
 Human Asia (humanasia@humanasia.org)     2011년 11월 07일    7,179  

Field Report on Bangladesh

The report is based on the Bangladesh field visit that took place on April 2011. 

At Bangladesh airport after seven hours of flight, we were greeted by suffocating stench, not a coordinator from UBINIG, our partner organization. Our field study commenced with a hint of anxiety as the coordinator led us to a hotel, while I thought ‘Are they taking us to a safe place?’ The purpose of this field trip was 1) to report on the reality of Rohingya refugees and figure out their needs, 2) to collect data necessary for drawing up a report on Rohingya refugees to be submitted to the United Nations, and 3) to build a network with local NGO.

We have our reason for focusing on not-well-known Rohingya people among other refugee groups. The Rohingya people are Muslim minorities living in northern Arakan state in Burma(Myanmar). Due to ethnic minority obliteration policy enforced by the military junta that came into power in 1990, they have been deprived of citizenship, and many live drifting from here to there. Moreover, they are further marginalized from helping hands because they are less known in the international society than Chin or Karen refugees, who are also from Burma. The Rohingya people are persecuted for their religion, Islam, prone to forced labor, sexual harassment, child abuse, and are vulnerable of the most vulnerable due to their stateless status with no right to move.

It goes back to 1962, the year when the military gained power through coup d’Etat, when the Rohingya people began to escape to neighboring Bangladesh, Thailand, or other third world. Then military regime, led by Ne Win, started to incessantly suppress and persecute ethnic minorities, whom it deemed a hindrance to long maintenance of power. Among them, Muslim Rohingyas were severely oppressed, and in 1978 February, King Dragon operation was carried out under the pretext of rooting out Muslim resistant movements, ending up with mass detention, arrest, and torture. During the three months the operation took place, around 200,000 to 250,000 Rohingya people moved to Bangladesh. According to a report by Physician for Human Rights(PHR), including 28,000 people in two official UNHCR camps, 300,000 to 400,000 Rohingyas are dispersed throughout Bangladesh.

In the makeshift camp in Cox’s Bazaar and in the unofficial camp in Kutupalong near the Bangladesh-Burma border where we visited, the number of residents is estimated to be approximately ten thousand and three thousand each. Because they are stateless, they cannot be officially recognized as refugees despite their refugee-like situation, and thus cannot be protected by the international society, with no food ration or education. Refugees living in Cox’s Bazaar makeshift camp have to move every two, three months to avoid reconnaissance and suppression of Bangladesh government. They are subject to exclusion from local people for occupying jobs and live with concealed identity. The unofficial camp in Kutupalong next to UNHCR camp is saturated with the highest number of unregistered refugees. The estimated number of residents is 30,000, but according to an interview with them, there are 7,000 households and considering each household as consisting of six to seven family members, there are over 40,000 in total.

A common problem of the two camps we observed would be a shortage of food. Residents in both camps have only one meal a day, and the gravest problem is water shortage. In Kutupalong camp, 7,000 households shared from merely 60 water pumps. According to a testimony in PHR report, even that one meal is eating roots of wild plants, demonstrating the terrible situation. Their right to live, the most basic human rights, is not even guaranteed properly.
Next, hygiene and health problems were severe. We could grasp the seriousness of the situation after we saw with our own eyes the squat toilets and water pumps that only produced dirty water. Due to consumption of wastewater and lack of sanitation facilities, waterborne diseases were prevalent. According to a survey held by PHR targeting 100 households in the unofficial camp, 55 percent of children between 6-59 months suffered from diarrhea in the past 30 days, illuminating the harmful influence of such problems.

Lastly, there is no opportunity to learn. Because children, as well as adults, cannot receive benefits of education and learn to read and write, they degenerate into day workers generation after generation. We felt the urgent need for even short-term education on basic reading, writing, arithmetic, and hygiene and sanitation. A male refugee we interviewed said “Although I don’t want to live in the official camp, I envy them because they get basic education,” clearly confirming the necessity of such education.

I would like to conclude this review with an interview we had with Rohingya families in Cox’s bazaar makeshift camp. We asked them what they find the hardest in their daily lives. Expecting to hear about the difficulty of making a living, I was taken aback and realized a greater difficulty than food shortage. Watching those who say “We have no home to return to and also no future” and take this as their biggest difficulty, I resolved to inform their situation to many others and succeed in returning their homeland and hopes for the future they so desire.

Many people pose this question: What can we do to solve this huge problem? My answer to this question is simple: Know this problem, inform others, and also read this newsletter and forward it. This ultimately will make a big change and I have no doubt that this will become a steppingstone to creating for them a future full of hopes.

 *What is a refugee?
According to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, a refugee is "A person who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.”

Written by Program Officer Ahreum Kim
Translated by Minju Yang
Edited by Ahreum Kim