February 2, 2018 – Fort Russ News – Paul Antonopoulos – Translated from Descrifrando la Guerra.
MADRID, Spain – “I am seventeen years old, I was born in Shamplapur and I have been here all my life”. This is how Suhel, the oldest of seven brothers who, like every morning, pushes his small boat towards the Naf River – Border between Burma and Bangladesh – to start another hard day of fishing for coral and hilsha and thus earn the barely 300 takas (3 euros) that you usually get daily. “My parents fled Rakhine twenty years ago because of the continuous attacks of the Myanmar Forces” -explains the young man-
Suhel and her family have lived all their lives in one of the old camps in the district of Teknaf, in Cox Bazar, where Rohingyas and Bangladeshis live side by side in the most dignified conditions possible. Both Suhel and her family are not surprised by the current mass exodus from their own community. “The persecution of the Rohingyas has been around for decades, I would say since 1942. The new exiles have been here for two to four months, but my family has been here for 20 years. It’s nothing new, it’s always been like that. “
In just four months, the Rohingya population has been at the center of the most rapid refugee crisis currently occurring, more than 650,000 people have entered the refugee camps set up by the Government of Bangladesh denouncing rapes, murders and burning of homes by the Myanmar Armed Forces following a series of attacks against different checkpoints carried out by a Rohingya insurgency at the end of August 2017. Camps that in the past faced similar crises in this community such as Kutupalong, Nayapara or Shamplapur have been seen overwhelmed by the mass exodus of this Muslim minority that has reached almost one million displaced people. Therefore, the government of Bangladesh has been obliged to establish new refugee camps such as Jamtholi or Hakimpara among others.
Jamtholi, in only two and a half months since its authorization, already welcomes 40,000 Rohingyas, of whom 54% are children. Most of the people living in this refuge come from Manaung Towship, a municipality located in the district of Kyaukpyu, in Myanmar.
Chained in Jamtholi. Stories of block G
Jamtholi is an inhospitable place where 40,000 souls wander without a fixed course. The simple fact of walking between this labyrinth causes a journey of thousands of years in time. The absence of trees forces the entire camp to continuous exposure to the sun, causing a haze that makes coexistence even more complicated. The unbearable smell mixes with small rivers of sewage and accumulated garbage while hundreds of children play completely naked among the mud caused by the constant rainfall of a tropical climate. The orange roofs of huts donated by the Turkish NGO Tukki, made among bamboo, wood or plastic stand out among the entire camp while predicting the squalor of this community trapped in years of permanent exile.
The morning is cold, the first rays of sun that invade the camp throughout the day have not yet come out. Children deprived of their childhood walk barefoot showing a malnutrition more than evident after a long and dangerous path that led them to this place. Women wash their clothes in the precarious makeshift red batteries that invade the camp and men move huge buckets of water to their homes while employees of various businesses begin to arrive to address yet another day the great crisis suffered by the Rohingya community.
With an omnipresent prayer coming from the mosque improvised by the Muslim community, the imam calls the parishioners to prayer and an extensive line of people leaves much of the camp uninhabited. “It’s all we have left” argues with a lucid smile Ahmed as he heads with his family to the mosque.
The fragile Ruphan hut is located in one of the many hills that slope the camp and where you can see the little forest that remains after the massive deforestation carried out by Bangladesh to enable the enclaves for the Rohingya population. In just a few meters, he lives with his five grandchildren and one of his daughters. “The Myanmar Forces murdered one of my daughters and burned our home” – she explains in a choked voice- The lady says that her current home, made with bamboo sticks and plastic, can not stand the weight of the rain and the nights are a nightmare, especially for his five grandchildren since the oldest is eight years old. Ruphan is one of the few people who wants to return to Rakhine as soon as possible. Despite the dramatic events that occurred last August, his current situation of misery is unbearable. “I understand that people do not want to return, they took one of my daughters. But this is not a way of living, especially for my grandchildren. What future awaits you here? If the conditions are acceptable and they help us start from scratch, of course I would go back to Rakhine. “
Ruphan has been in Cox Bazar for four months and has recently had to change its location to Jamtholi camp. The murder of her daughter and the destruction of her house in Rakhine are compounded by the uncertainty of not knowing when she will be able to leave the camp so that her family can return to living a life worthy enough.
The life of each of the families now residing in Jamtholi has changed completely. The normal thing is that each family consists of between eight and ten members, something that explains the continuous transit of indigent children throughout the camp. The stories of widows and orphaned children follow one another as they give credit to the words of the Secretary General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, where he referred to the latest wave of violence in Myanmar as a more than probable intention of ethnic cleansing against this Muslim minority.
It’s two o’clock in the afternoon, time to eat at the camp. What should be a joy becomes a nightmare for managers of NGOs and the Rohingya themselves. The ranks are a chimera that people with so much need left long ago. Pushing and screaming join the cries of the smallest that after several blows and falls have ceased in their attempt to get your much desired plate of food. “We do everything possible so that no one is missing his lunch, but distributing food for so many people and such a large number of children is not an easy task,” says Hasan, 25, of the NGO Dreamers Bangladesh.
After lunch families take shelter from the sun in their homes, and many women take the opportunity to visit the medical center of their respective blocks to pick up the medicines that they have not been able to request in the morning. There are more than 7 medical centers created by different organizations in Jamtholi, which are responsible for delivering medicines to sick people and nutritional education of children through games and songs that evade children from the harsh conditions of your new home The G block medical center is founded by the NGO Indonesian Humanitary and is coordinated by the employees of Dreamers Bangladesh, an organization belonging to the Government of Bangladesh, although the government itself in turn also provides certain services on certain occasions.
In the G block medical center the transit of women worried about their health and that of their children is constant. Yasmin appears with an afflicted gesture. Not even in his worst nightmares would he have imagined this situation barely 8 months ago. With her baby Shudidulah in her arms, looking dejected and barely a year and a half, she prepares to collect her medicines as she does every day after her corresponding prescription. “I am worried, she does not eat and she is not as active as always, she has been coughing and fever for several days. He’s only one year old. ” Insomnia and migraine have taken over this girl since that August night, to which she adds that she is pregnant. “They burned my house and killed many people. They slashed or shot indiscriminately against the whole town. We had no choice but to escape, since then the situation we are in is very difficult. “
Shomshidah hides her little one-year-old Mohamed among several blankets that protect him from the wind that is hitting the camp. Behind her veil are eyes that are soaked in tears that make one foresee the bitterness and concern with which her days flow. “Everything has changed. Now what? The nights and days in this place are very hard and my son is very sick. That’s the only thing that torments me every morning. “
Just a few hours after lunch, the nutritional education class begins in the block G medical center. About 200 children start to arrive with laughter and jokes while the employees of the NGOs proceed to distribute eggs that each young person must take. during the day.
Ten-year-old Sadiq appears in the tired medical center, sweating and with a contagious smile. Probably he has been running for hours and playing with his peers outside his surroundings. With the nurse Sri Mulyati present, native of Jakarta and employed by Indonesian Humanitary, the young man proceeds to tell his story while taking a seat on a piece of stiff earth. “Myanmar forces murdered my father with one stone and burned my house. My mother, my little brother and I fled at night, but when I did not see anything I tripped several times and fell to the asphalt. ” -The little one has a body full of wounds without healing. “There is no danger because I review them daily, but it is true that controlling the children so they do not get dirty or play where they should not is complicated, so it takes longer to heal,” explains the Indonesian nurse. Sadiq is an educated boy, something naughty and happy. Although, according to Sri Mulyati, it is very probable that in just three months that have passed, he has not yet accepted the murder of his father.
Life in the camp goes beyond the conditions that residents in Jamtholi have to face every day. The weight of the experience in Rakhine last summer is still latent in each of the consciences of a dazed community. “Depression, anxiety, stress … there are many women who have lost their husbands and are totally alone in this place with 5 or 6 children to care for and feed. Children are another drama, although most seem to be outsiders and play non-stop, many have dramatic stories and very serious problems for their age. ” Ensures Kutub, in charge of the G block medical center and employee of the NGO Dreamers Bangladesh. “At first this was chaos, although little by little we are improving the conditions. But there are more complicated things besides food and water, that can be fixed relatively quickly. What this community has experienced is not so easy to make disappear. “
Repatriation, a utopia
Ali Ahmed emerges between the hubbub and an incalculable succession of shacks united in just a few meters. He is 45 years old, but his worn look betrays the consequences of a complex life. He has been in Bangladesh for four months, where he arrived through a boat for about 10,000 Takas and this is the second time he has moved his camp. Now he lives in Jamtholi in a small shop with his eight children. His life in Rakhine was simple and routine, he devoted himself to agriculture and fishing, so he got the minimum to get his family out, until the Myanmar forces expelled them. “I could witness how they executed a large number of neighbors in single file and threw them in pits. They burned our houses and kept our crops. Now we have nothing left, why come back? “
On November 23, 2017, the Governments of Myanmar and Bangladesh reached a repatriation agreement for the Rohingya community. The agreement will be made before January 23. One of the requirements is not to force anyone to return if it is not of their own volition, although in turn the agreement makes it clear that in order to return it is necessary to possess the card or proof of residence in Myanmar and in any problem that surja, Myanmar has the last word. Ali Ahmed smiles and explains that less than 4% of the population living in the country owns the residence. “It’s outrageous, we fled with what was put on and burned our houses, how are we going to have residence permits if we barely have clothes?”
Following the visit of a Myanmar minister to Dhaka in early December, Naypyidaw announced that the repatriation of the Rohingyas should be done on the basis of refugee verification according to the criteria agreed by the two countries in a joint statement after the similar crisis of 1990.
But following that agreement, only about 14,000 Rohingyas of the more than 800,000 exiles will have the opportunity to be repatriated, if they do. After long discussions, Naypyidaw agreed that only Rohingyas with “Myanmar citizenship identity cards or national registration cards or other relevant documents” could return to Myanmar.
The difficulty in obtaining such residences is that the government of Myanmar began a process of verification of citizenship in 2014 under the draconian law of 1982 that deprived the Rohingyas of citizenship, something they have been fighting for ever since. This allowed the holders of temporary resident cards to apply for citizenship on the condition that they appear as Bengalis. But in 2015, temporary resident cards were also canceled, denying the Rohingya community their right to vote in the 2015 elections that led to the return to power of the well-known Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung Suu Kyi. Later, in June of that year, Myanmar began issuing national verification identity cards. The Kofi Annan Commission created by Suu Kyi reported this year that around 4,000 Rohingyas of one million have been recognized as citizens or naturalized citizens and about 10,000 more obtained national verification cards, considered a preparatory step towards citizenship.
In view of these events, Myanmar’s intention is not to welcome more than 14,000 people, of the nearly one million currently residing in Bangladesh, and there would be no doubt after the statements of the Myanmar interior minister in which he said “no be sure that number of people will be repatriated. “
UNHCR has already visited Rakhine during this year and affirmed that it is not a place for a safe and sustainable return of the Rohingya community. The apparent minority of people who want to return to Rakhine, want to return to their towns and cities, something more than unlikely after the statements of the Myanmar government secretary “We still have to rebuild the infrastructure and prepare resettlement plans to accept them again” . These resettlements, alluded to by the government secretary, confirm that Myanmar will not allow the Rohingyas to return to their homeland in Rakhine State.
But all these are unrealistic assumptions. In the face of Myanmar’s demands, it is clear that the government is only willing to accommodate a huge minority of people currently living in the refugee camps of Bangladesh. In addition, you only need to walk through any of the Cox Bazar camps and talk to different people to understand the deep distrust of this community towards the government of Myanmar and infer that the idea of return is not an option for people so horrified.
Mohamed Aieb lives with his eight children in a small hut. With a particular white knob and a cordial tone, he does not hesitate to show his residence permit, something unprecedented in the camp, while offering tea to everyone present. “I have the permission and according to the agreement I could return, but I tell him that, after the atrocities committed by the racist forces of Myanmar against the Muslim population, I will never return. Never in my life have I passed, nor will I be as scared as I was that night. ” – Ensures firm and convincing-
With the last rays of sun breaking through the premature dusk of the camp, Mohamed makes his personal request with the approval of all the people present. “As Myanmar’s attacks on our community go unpunished thanks to the international silence and especially of China and India, the only thing we ask is that they leave us alone. Here we are good and safe. There we have lost everything. “