Rohingya Refugees Remain at a Crossroads Three Years After Mass Exodus From Myanmar - CARE
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Rohingya Refugees Remain at a Crossroads Three Years After Mass Exodus From Myanmar

A girl in a temporary shelter looks forward while a piece of red fabric obscures half of her face.

Photo: Tapash Paul/CARE

Photo: Tapash Paul/CARE

Nearly 1 million people are still waiting for justice, their rights back, and to return home

Ram Das is the Deputy Country Director, Humanitarian Response, for CARE Bangladesh.

In 2017, hundreds of thousands of Rohingyas fled Myanmar to settle in the Cox’s Bazar region of Bangladesh. Three years later, nearly 1 million Rohingya are still waiting for justice, their rights back, and to return home. Most of them settled in the world’s most overcrowded refugee camps amid a complex humanitarian situation. Now the COVID-19 pandemic has added another layer of complexity to their lives. At the height of the pandemic, they are also dealing with the monsoon-cyclone season. As I write these lines, heavy downpour in Cox’s Bazar has inundated large areas in the camps.

While waiting for a positive turn in their lives, the Rohingya have put up a brave and strong struggle for survival. Back in 2017, Delder Begum walked for seven days with her young daughter to reach Cox’s Bazar. After 65 days of treatment at a local hospital, they were provided shelter at Camp 14, which is home for them now.

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“When I fled Myanmar, I was only 25. But the last three years have matured me beyond time and redefined the meaning of life altogether. I am still trying to come to terms with the loss of my husband and sons, but I find solace in contributing to my community here,” says Delder. She is one of the most active members of the Women Disaster Management Volunteers (DMU) of Camp 14, CARE Bangladesh’s site management project.

CARE has been actively engaged in emergency response from the very onset of the influx of Rohingya refugees. For the past three years, CARE has managed and coordinated supply of essential services in three camps, while supporting infrastructure development, setting up water supply systems, constructing toilets, installing hand-washing points, ensuring cleanliness and hygiene in the camps, setting up health centers, supporting counselling and referral services for gender-based violence cases and more across eight camps. As of now, CARE has been able to reach about 200,000 people with these essential services.

“I am still trying to come to terms with the loss of my husband and sons, but I find solace in contributing to my community here.”

Delder recollects her initial inability to adjust in the camp, primarily due to communication and socio-cultural barriers. Today, she is responsible for raising awareness and building capacity of 65 families on cyclone preparedness, landslide risk management, fire incidents and more.

“I feel so happy to see my daughter resume her education. I want her to complete her education and become a good leader,” she says.

A group of children smile while sitting on a pile of large bamboo poles arranged in bundles.
Photo: Bithun Sarkar/CARE

Over the past three years, CARE has been working with the Rohingya population to improve their living conditions. A few hundred Rohingya volunteers working with CARE programs have played a critical role. In addition to bringing about positive changes in others’ lives, the volunteers themselves have undergone massive transformation.

Md. Atikul Islam from Palongkhali camp works as an Outreach Volunteer in Camp 16. Over the last three years, his perspectives, especially toward gender, have undergone dramatic changes, from having strong conservative beliefs regarding women’s rights to now advocating for gender equality and women’s empowerment in the camp. He engages with men and boys to make them aware of women’s rights and stopping any form of violence against women and girls. Atikul also works with women and girls to generate awareness about their rights and the services offered across different camps.

Three girls smile while displaying traditional decorations drawn on their hands.
Photo: Tapash Paul/CARE

Aziz, another volunteer from Camp 16 is considered a “real hero” by his CARE site management colleagues. He helps the site management team in preparing different handwritten communication materials in Rohingya language. All communication and visibility materials in the information hub are handwritten by Aziz. Meanwhile, he has improved his English language skills and aspires to be a spokesperson for the rights of Rohingya people and to motivate his fellow campmates to work together towards positive change.

Despite their struggles, the Rohingya people still live a life of hope and optimism. As you walk down the narrow lanes of the overcrowded camps, the joyful laughter of children running around, the sight of competitive youth engaged in a friendly football match, the deep hope in the eyes of the women as they huddle with their infants, rekindles the hope that there will be a better and more beautiful world for them in the future.