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Four years on, Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh are losing hope

Written by Anonymous Rohingya contributors, Oliver Lough

Hero image description: An aerial view of Kutupalong Refugee Camp and Camp Extension, Bangladesh. Image credit:UNHCR/Roger Arnold Image license:CC BY-NC-ND

Today marks four years since almost a million Rohingya refugees arrived in Bangladesh, forced to flee their homes in Myanmar following a genocidal campaign by the country’s military. To mark this anniversary, the Humanitarian Policy Group (HPG) is sharing the collected views of 22 young Rohingya women and men as they reflect on their experience of displacement and their fears for the future. Due to the sensitivity of speaking out on these issues in public, we have withheld their names at their request.

Since their displacement, the majority of Rohingya communities living in Bangladesh have clearly and repeatedly expressed their aspiration to return home as soon as it is safe to do so, with their rights restored and protected. Sadly, the outlook remains bleak. Diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis have largely stalled. While the military coup in Myanmar has triggered some welcome self-reflection and solidarity for the Rohingya among parts of the Burmese resistance movement, the new junta remains as committed as ever to their persecution and exclusion.

While the wheels of international accountability mechanisms at the International Criminal Court (ICC) and International Court of Justice (ICJ) have begun to turn, it will be years before any judgments are reached, let alone enforced. As time wears on, aid actors, the Bangladeshi government, and most of all Rohingya communities are grappling in their different ways with the prospect of an increasingly prolonged displacement.

Against this background, the authors of this piece highlight an increasingly profound hopelessness and abandonment. In particular, the fact that worsening conditions in Bangladesh are driving people to consider returning to persecution in Myanmar should set alarm bells ringing across the humanitarian and diplomatic communities. Now more than ever, their stories highlight the need to engage with the Rohingya as equals; to be open with them; and to speak up forcefully on their behalf.

Oliver Lough, Research Fellow, ODI's Humanitarian Policy Group

‘Our homeless future’

25 August is a day of genocide. When we think about that day, we remember all the difficulties we faced in Myanmar. We only came here after much hardship. We took shelter here because our brothers, sisters, parents were being killed and our houses were burned down. It took us six months to recover from the trauma. But when we remember that day now, we also think of how homeless our future feels and how our lives are being spoiled here in Bangladesh.

Before coming here, we didn’t know what it was like to live as a refugee, we didn’t realise we would have to stay here this long. It is hard – worse than the way we lived in Myanmar.

We are humans, but nothing can be said of our human rights. We escaped from one place of human rights violations and landed ourselves in another. Yes, we were shot and killed, but still we had a space to sleep; here, we can’t even build a home. Our children are growing, but our shelters stay the same size. Our eight family members can no longer sleep in a 15x12 foot shelter.

Back home, we could move from one village to another; here, we can barely go anywhere, and things are getting worse. When we arrived, we could leave the camp to get medical treatment; now a fence surrounds the camp. Before, we could at least move between camps; now there are checkpoints within the camp and we cannot see our relatives. Even after four years, there is no security here. You can be threatened at any moment, you can die at any moment.

Our children could have spent four years of our life here at school; maybe they could have passed their matriculation exams. When we hear about students passing the exam back in Myanmar, we cry. The schools in the camp only teach preschool lessons. We are losing a generation. Our children have nothing – they are growing up but they have no education. Our children struggle with us, uneducated and forced to do hard work, running up and down the hills of the camp. We are forgetting many Rohingya words; we are forgetting our own language. Each year our educated people are dying out while we grow more uneducated. This means we, the Rohingya, are dying and the UN’s continued silence means they’re taking part in that process.

Each year the aid is shrinking, and our fear grows. We are stranded as if afloat in a river with a life jacket, afraid to come to shore because, if we do, we will be shot. Our life jacket is the monthly rice ration we receive from the World Food Programme to keep us alive. There is nothing human in this. If we knew we would have to lead this life, we would have stayed in Myanmar. Better to be shot once than live like this while waiting to die. Right now, we have more fear than hope. Maybe there is no one who will speak for us, maybe we will have to spend our whole life this way.

The world needs to think of us, to find a solution. To the UN and NGOs, we ask: are you allied to keep us this way? If not, why don’t you speak out? We want the UN to acknowledge 25 August as the day of Rohingya genocide. Rwanda’s genocide is recognised – why isn’t ours? You can’t stay silent. You must say something. You have to tell us what you are doing to help us, or you have to say you can do nothing.

If someone is oppressed, you have to show them the path to justice. We don’t know where to go. We thought the ICC and the ICJ were powerful. We hoped they would do something, but they have no interest in helping us escape our tarp shelters. We had faith in them, but they disappointed us.

If you care, tell the government to open the border so we can go back, or you can send us to a place where there are human rights. We don’t want to lose any more of our lives staying here. We have no more hope left. We and our children will only have peace if we go back. This is what we want to tell the world – you don’t have to do anything for us in the camps. We just need help to get back to our country with our rights intact. The international community can do that if they want.