Life at a Rohingya camp: An Arab News report

Life at a Rohingya camp: An Arab News report
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More than a million Rohingyas in the squalid refugee camps at Cox’s Bazar are living a life full of misery and hardship. (AN Photo)
Life at a Rohingya camp: An Arab News report
2 / 5
More than a million Rohingyas in the squalid refugee camps at Cox’s Bazar are living a life full of misery and hardship. (AN Photo)
Life at a Rohingya camp: An Arab News report
3 / 5
More than a million Rohingyas in the squalid refugee camps at Cox’s Bazar are living a life full of misery and hardship. (AN Photo)
Life at a Rohingya camp: An Arab News report
4 / 5
More than a million Rohingyas in the squalid refugee camps at Cox’s Bazar are living a life full of misery and hardship. (AN Photo)
Life at a Rohingya camp: An Arab News report
5 / 5
More than a million Rohingyas in the squalid refugee camps at Cox’s Bazar are living a life full of misery and hardship. (AN Photo)
Updated 21 June 2019

Life at a Rohingya camp: An Arab News report

Life at a Rohingya camp: An Arab News report
  • Majority of Rohingya refugees in the camp suffering from malnutrition
  • Rohingya youth also faced with extremely limited educational and employment prospects

DHAKA, Bangladesh: It was in the evening of June 18 in Dhaka that I received a call from my office for a special assignment to mark World Refugee Day on June 20. Just hearing the topline I felt very excited as I love challenges.

My excitement only grew as the details of the assignment unfolded: I was to stay in the camps with the Rohingyas for 48 hours, living like a refugee. I could see that this would help our readers to get a fuller picture of the Rohingyas’ daily life.

However, it was one of the strangest assignments in my career. Moreover, outsiders are strictly forbidden to stay in the camp area at night by the authorities in Bangladesh.

When I began to look for a way round this, many of my contacts said they could not let me stay in the camps at night. After few hours I finally spoke to one of my sources who is serving in a law enforcement agency and performing duties in the Rohingya camps, and who offered to sort it out. I took the flight to Cox’s Bazar in the early morning next day and reached the Rohingya camp around mid day.

Trouble in finding a host family for the lunch

Although the monsoon had started just a couple of days back, it was a scorching hot summer everywhere in the highly congested area of the camps. Amid the high humidity, I noticed the Rohingyas were busy all around with their daily lives. While some Rohingya men and women were standing in queue for collection of their relief items, others were busy with maintenance work on the paths in the camps; there were mothers rushing to the medical centers with their ailing babies, and children returning from their schools.

As I moved deeper into the camp, at around 3 p.m. I was looking for a host family among the Rohingyas to have lunch. Many of the families apologized and said they have already finished lunch.

Finally I found Lokman Hakim’s family, who offered me lunch. The three-member family was yet to have theirs as they did not have any vegetables or curry. But Hakim and his wife Hamida Begum (30), were very happy to host an unknown guest like me. Just three months before, Hakim’s family had been blessed with the youngest son of the family, Solaiman Ahmed, who was suffering from high fever on that day.

So we had some slices of onions and chillies with rice for lunch. As I was extremely hungry and thirsty, this seemed to me like a divine food, although it was a total contrast to my normal lunch menu of fish, meat and vegetables.

A number of onlookers gathered instantly in front of Hakim’s tent, a 10 x 12 feet tarpaulin house, to watch the sudden visitor.

The struggle in collecting relief

Although nowadays distribution is more organized than it was in 2017, most of the Rohingyas still have to queue for long hours to receive the food aid. Kamal Hossain (64), a refugee of Kutupalang camp, was waiting for an hour in the queue for his rations. The head of nine-member family had to queue for one and half hours.
“The food I receive here is sufficient to feed my family members for a month. But I can’t provide them fish or meat regularly as these are not included in the relief package and in camp life we don’t have the chance to work to earn money,” Hossain told me.

Tayeba Begum, 41, was queuing for 2 hours to receive her monthly food support.
She brought her 10-year-old youngest son, Mohammad Ibrahim, along with her to bring the relief package up to her tent.
“Sometimes I sell some of the relief stuff in the local market to get some cash. This is how I can buy some fish and vegetables for my children,” said Begum.

When asked how often she can feed the family fish or meat, Begum replied
that the family try to have fish once in a week. Begum’s family spends around $15 on fish monthly.

This statement from Begum prompted me to compare it to my daily life in the capital, Dhaka, where every day I spend more on fish than her monthly total.

I visited Begum’s tent to witness her daily life in the camp. It was a space of about 10 x 10 feet. The space was very small to accommodate her seven-member family. Last year, managing firewood was a big challenge for her, but this year she was given a gas stove by the authorities, which made cooking easy.

Meeting a lost generation

In the camps I met many children and youths who are out of school education. According to UN, 550,000 children account for about 55 percent of the total refugees. Half of them are still out of any sort of school learning system.

At night the camps look like a ghost area as darkness engulfs the tents, although the authorities have installed solar powered street lights in the main roads inside the camps. I found all the small shops inside the camps were shut down at 8 p.m. in accordance with the guidelines of the Bangladesh government.

Late into the night I met a group of Rohingya youths in a small tea shop inside the camps. They all sounded worried about their future as they don’t have any education and almost no chance to work in the camp. Mahmud Jalal, 22, Shamsul Alam, 19, Mujib Rahman, 18, and Abdur Rashid, 20, echoed the same pessimism about their future. Unemployment has become a big problem for these Rohingya youths.

“All day we sit idle and roam aimlessly from one camp to another. There is nothing to do for us. How long a man can sit idle like this?” asked Rashid.

These uneducated and unemployed youths of Rohingyas have created the worry of producing a “lost generation”, as the UN has described.


FBI vetting Guard troops in DC amid fears of insider attack

Soldiers from the Virginia National Guard stand watch on the National Mall on January 17, 2021 in Washington, DC. As many as 25,000 National Guard soldiers will be guarding the city as preparations are made for the inauguration of Joe Biden as the 46th US President. (Samuel Corum/Getty Images/AFP)
Soldiers from the Virginia National Guard stand watch on the National Mall on January 17, 2021 in Washington, DC. As many as 25,000 National Guard soldiers will be guarding the city as preparations are made for the inauguration of Joe Biden as the 46th US President. (Samuel Corum/Getty Images/AFP)
Updated 18 January 2021

FBI vetting Guard troops in DC amid fears of insider attack

Soldiers from the Virginia National Guard stand watch on the National Mall on January 17, 2021 in Washington, DC. As many as 25,000 National Guard soldiers will be guarding the city as preparations are made for the inauguration of Joe Biden as the 46th US President. (Samuel Corum/Getty Images/AFP)
  • About 25,000 members of the National Guard are streaming into Washington from across the country
  • Insider threats have been a persistent law enforcement priority in the years after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks

WASHINGTON: US defense officials say they are worried about an insider attack or other threat from service members involved in securing President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration, prompting the FBI to vet all of the 25,000 National Guard troops coming into Washington for the event.
The massive undertaking reflects the extraordinary security concerns that have gripped Washington following the deadly Jan. 6 insurrection at the US Capitol by pro-Trump rioters. And it underscores fears that some of the very people assigned to protect the city over the next several days could present a threat to the incoming president and other VIPs in attendance.
Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy told The Associated Press on Sunday that officials are conscious of the potential threat, and he warned commanders to be on the lookout for any problems within their ranks as the inauguration approaches. So far, however, he and other leaders say they have seen no evidence of any threats, and officials said the vetting hadn’t flagged any issues.
”We’re continually going through the process, and taking second, third looks at every one of the individuals assigned to this operation,” McCarthy said in an interview after he and other military leaders went through an exhaustive, three-hour security drill in preparation for Wednesday’s inauguration. He said Guard members are also getting training on how to identify potential insider threats.
About 25,000 members of the National Guard are streaming into Washington from across the country — at least two and a half times the number for previous inaugurals. And while the military routinely reviews service members for extremist connections, the FBI screening is in addition to any previous monitoring.
Multiple officials said the process began as the first Guard troops began deploying to D.C. more than a week ago. And they said it is slated to be complete by Wednesday.
“The question is, is that all of them? Are there others?” said McCarthy. “We need to be conscious of it and we need to put all of the mechanisms in place to thoroughly vet these men and women who would support any operations like this.”
In a situation like this one, FBI vetting would involve running peoples’ names through databases and watchlists maintained by the bureau to see if anything alarming comes up. That could include involvement in prior investigations or terrorism-related concerns, said David Gomez, a former FBI national security supervisor in Seattle.
Insider threats have been a persistent law enforcement priority in the years after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. But in most cases, the threats are from homegrown insurgents radicalized by Al-Qaeda, the Daesh group or similar groups. In contrast, the threats against Biden’s inauguration have been fueled by supporters of President Donald Trump, far-right militants, white supremacists and other radical groups. Many believe Trump’s baseless accusations that the election was stolen from him, a claim that has been refuted by many courts, the Justice Department and Republican officials in key battleground states.
The insurrection at the Capitol began after Trump made incendiary remarks at the Jan. 6 rally. According to McCarthy, service members from across the military were at that rally, but it’s not clear how many were there or who may have participated in the breach at the Capitol. So far only a couple of current active-duty or National Guard members have been arrested in connection with the Capitol assault, which left five people dead. The dead included a Capitol Police officer and a woman shot by police as she climbed through a window in a door near the House chamber.
Gen. Daniel R. Hokanson, chief of the National Guard Bureau, has been meeting with Guard troops as they arrive in D.C. and as they gather downtown. He said he believes there are good processes in place to identify any potential threats.
“If there’s any indication that any of our soldiers or airmen are expressing things that are extremist views, it’s either handed over to law enforcement or dealt with the chain of command immediately,” he said.
The insider threat, however, was just one of the security concerns voiced by officials on Sunday, as dozens of military, National Guard, law enforcement and Washington, D.C., officials and commanders went through a security rehearsal in northern Virginia. As many as three dozen leaders lined tables that ringed a massive color-coded map of D.C. reflected onto the floor. Behind them were dozens more National Guard officers and staff, with their eyes trained on additional maps and charts displayed on the wall.
The Secret Service is in charge of event security, but there is a wide variety of military and law enforcement personnel involved, ranging from the National Guard and the FBI to the Washington, D.C., Capitol and Park Police.
Commanders went over every aspect of the city’s complicated security lockdown, with McCarthy and others peppering them with questions about how the troops will respond in any scenario and how well they can communicate with the other enforcement agencies scattered around the city.
Hokanson said he believes his troops have been adequately equipped and prepared, and that they are rehearsing as much as they can to be prepared for any contingency.
The major security concern is an attack by armed groups of individuals, as well as planted explosives and other devices. McCarthy said intelligence reports suggest that groups are organizing armed rallies leading up to Inauguration Day, and possibly after that.
The bulk of the Guard members will be armed. And McCarthy said units are going through repeated drills to practice when and how to use force and how to work quickly with law enforcement partners. Law enforcement officers would make any arrests.
He said Guard units are going through “constant mental repetitions of looking at the map and talking through scenarios with leaders so they understand their task and purpose, they know their routes, they know where they’re friendly, adjacent units are, they have the appropriate frequencies to communicate with their law enforcement partners.”
The key goal, he said, is for America’s transfer of power to happen without incident.
“This is a national priority. We have to be successful as an institution,” said McCarthy. “We want to send the message to everyone in the United States and for the rest of the world that we can do this safely and peacefully.”
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Associated Press writer Eric Tucker contributed to this report.