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)
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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)
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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)
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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)
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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)
Updated 21 June 2019

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.


Indian court accused of ‘betrayal’ over mosque verdict

Updated 01 October 2020

Indian court accused of ‘betrayal’ over mosque verdict

  • Senior BJP officials acquitted of conspiracy to destroy historic Muslim place of worship

NEW DELHI: A special court in the northern Indian city of Lucknow on Wednesday acquitted all 32 politicians and senior leaders from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of conspiring to demolish the 16th-century Babri Mosque in 1992, ruling that the move was not “preplanned.”

Muslims described the judgment as “yet another betrayal by the judiciary.”

The BJP under the leadership of then-party president Lal Krishna Advani led a political campaign in the late 1980s and early 1990s to build a temple on the site of the disputed 16th-century mosque in the eastern city of Ayodhya, claiming that it was built by the first Mughal ruler Babar. 

On Dec. 6, 1992, in response to a call by BJP leaders, hundreds of Hindu extremists gathered at the disputed site and demolished the mosque, resulting in religious riots across the country that claimed more than 2,000 lives.

Most of the BJP leaders and its affiliates were blamed for razing the Babri Mosque.

However, on Wednesday, Surendra Kumar Yadav, the judge at the special court, said that the demolition of the 500-year-old mosque was not pre-planned.

“They have been acquitted for lack of evidence,” defense lawyer K.K. Mishra said after the verdict.

Muslims reacted to the verdict with disappointment.

“The judgment pronounced by the special CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation) court is wrong. We will appeal in the high court,” Zafaryab Jilani, general secretary of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, said.

The BJP was elated with the court’s decision.

“It is a moment of happiness for all of us; we chanted ‘Jai Shri Ram’ (Hail Ram) after the court’s verdict. The judgment vindicates my personal and BJP’s belief and commitment toward the Ram Janmabhoomi Movement. Along with millions of my countrymen, I now look forward to the completion of the beautiful Shri Ram Mandir (temple) at Ayodhya,” 92-year-old Advani, one of the accused in the case, said.

Another BJP leader and former party president, Murli Manohar Joshi, who was also among the accused, called the judgment “historic.”

“This proves that no conspiracy was hatched for the incident in Ayodhya. Our program and rallies were not part of any conspiracy,” Joshi, 86, said.

The verdict comes 10 months after the Supreme Court’s controversial judgment giving the disputed land to a Hindu trust and awarding five acres of land to Muslim petitioners to build a structure of their choice at another location in the city.

“It’s a betrayal by the court,” Ayodhya-based Hajji Mahboob, one of the original Muslim petitioners, told Arab News.

“So many BJP leaders have claimed openly that they were involved in demolishing the Babri Mosque. If the court gives this kind of one-sided verdict, I can only say that it is compromised,” he said.

“We know that there cannot be any justice for Muslims in this country because all the decisions given by the courts are wrong,” he added.

Reacting to the verdict, the main opposition Congress party said it was “counter to the Supreme Court judgment.” 

The apex court held that the demolition of the Babri mosque was clearly illegal and an “egregious violation of the rule of law.” 

“But the Special Court exonerated all the accused. It is clear that the decision of the Special Court runs counter to the decision of the Supreme Court,” Congress spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala said.

The demolition of the mosque was “a deep-rooted political conspiracy to destroy the country’s communal amity and brotherhood, and to usurp power at any cost,” he added.

According to Hilal Ahamd, of New Delhi-based think tank Center for the Study of Developing Societies, there is a growing belief among Muslims that India is a Hindu country and “they have to adjust themselves accordingly.”

Meanwhile, former chairman of the minority commission Zafar ul Islam Khan said the verdict will encourage the BJP to take the law into its own hands in the belief that the police and judiciary will protect them.

Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, a New Delhi political analyst who has written several books on the Hindu right-wing politics, said: “The demolition of the mosque was a criminal offense and the failure to establish guilt after 28 years is unfortunate.”

He described the verdict as “a betrayal for Muslims and risky for the security of the country if its largest minority keeps getting marginalized like this.”