Rohingya Refugee Camps

(© iResist 2023 – both images and text are not to be reproduced in any circumstance)
These pictures were taken during iResist field research trip to the Kutupolong refugee camps in 2018, a year after the mass exodus of Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar. There are over a million Rohingya Refugees in Bangladeshi refugee camps at Cox’s Bazar at the Bangladesh/Myanmar (Burma) border making it the world’s largest refugee camp. The refugees arrived from Myanmar due to the ethnic cleansing that the UN regards as the “Textbook example of ethnic cleansing”. The Rohingya genocide is a series of ongoing persecutions by the Myanmar military of the Muslim Rohingya people. The genocide consisted of two phases to date: the first was a military crackdown that occurred from October 2016 to January 2017, and the second has been happening since August 2017. Rohingya Muslims are known as the most persecuted community in the world. Five years since the mass execution and massive influx of refugees in these camps, they still live in crippling situations with no hope for the future and no sign of a return to Myanmar where they were refused citizenship and had limited access to education and healthcare although they had been living there for centuries. They then faced genocide with the expulsion of Rohingyas from villages after villages, leaving behind only the rubble and ash of their houses. 

Life is crippling in their world with people living in unliveable conditions with no running water, no healthcare, and no sources of earning. People still carry the scars of genocide the details of which are horrific and it feels like the rest of the world has totally forgotten them. Listening to their ordeals of rape and massacre and seeing them longing for the loved ones they lost and the houses they left behind was a life-changing experience for the team. For a look inside the refugee camps, please stay tuned for our documentary “The Most Unwanted”, (see trailer here). 

Their suffering is not bound to their genocide and harsh living conditions in refugee camps alone. Refugee crises has opened the gate of unlimited opportunities for human smugglers, paedophiles and women traffickers to prey on people at their most vulnerable. According to a BBC report based on their sting operation conducted in 2018, both online and offline in Bangladesh, a network of traffickers, pimps, brokers and transporters continue to supply women and children for sex. The Rohingya crisis has increased the supply of women and children into already existing sex industry of Bangladesh, forcing the price of prostitution down and keeping demand as strong as ever. The children are being trafficked not only to Dhaka and Chittagong but to India and Nepal as well. There is no official record of how many children have been missing since they arrived in the camps.   

Since 2020, Bangladesh has relocated over 20,000 refugees to Bhasan Char, a remote inhabited island. Rights group reports said that many Rohingya were coerced to move to the island. Bhasan Char is a remote island in the Bay of Bengal formed only in the last two decades by silt deposit in the delta; its shape and shorelines have repeatedly shifted. Three to five hours from the mainland by boat, inaccessible in high winds, and lacking an airstrip for fixed-winged planes, Bhasan Char has limited capacity for evacuation in the event of a cyclone. During severe weather, the island is cut off from the rest of the world. In monsoon season, refugees and humanitarian workers alike fear that inadequate storm and flood protection could put those on the island at serious risk. This, alongside food shortages, unreliable water sources, lack of schools and health care, and severe restrictions on freedom of movement, makes many refugees fear they are stuck on an island jail in the middle of the sea. A seriously ill patient or a pregnant woman with pains has to be taken to a Noakhali hospital by boat which is a long and very risky journey, impossible to be made for a serious patient.  

The Bangladesh government has touted Bhasan Char as a solution to the severe overcrowding in the refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar where nearly one million Rohingya refugees from Myanmar live. The government aims ultimately to relocate 100,000 refugees to the island.
Author – Aisha Ghazi (Founder – iResist)