“The Rohingya have gone out of the frying pan and into the fire,” one aid worker said as they headed into the refugee camps on Wednesday. He said that back in 2015, and they were driving toward a camp with a translator, having gone through multiple security checkpoints, when two men on a motorcycle cut in front of them and ordered the driver to pull over. They presented police ID and told them that the road was closed–the regular everyday traffic still continued to barrel past them.
“Hello, welcome to Bangladesh, no problem!” they chanted, in between harshly toned words with their translator. The aid workers didn’t know what they were saying to him, but after their encounter, the translator looked at them with wide eyes and said, “Brother, please don’t leave me with them.”
The aid workers were turned from the refugee camp and forced back into Bangladesh proper, secret police following them to their hotel, and even into the stairway that led to their rooms, with no explanation.
The Rohingya have been flooding to Bangladesh in an effort to escape the documented human rights abuses within Myanmar, their next door neighbor. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, commented in September that, “Because Myanmar has refused access to human rights investigators the current situation cannot yet be fully assessed, but the situation seems a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.” As the violence within Burma (Myanmar) has escalated, many of the Rohingya have no other choice but to flee. Bangladesh, their closest neighbor, has been a shelter for many refugees, though the subject seems to come at a high level of controversy. There, aid workers have observed a distinct difference between the attitudes of the Bangladeshi military and the secret police toward the Rohingya refugees.
Had the aid workers left their translator alone back in 2015, they feared serious consequences from the secret police. One of their translators had been “arrested and beaten with chairs” when another group of aid workers briefly left him alone. A Bangladeshi Police Officer later told my source that the Rohingya were a “disease on the whole world.”
Since then, things have begun to slowly improve for the aid workers. The secret police have reportedly bothered the translators less, as they know the world is watching. According to some permanent foreign aid workers in the area, the Bangladeshi military have historically treated the Rohingya better than the police, and as time progresses the police might fear “push back from the military if they continue abusing the refugees,” one aid worker said.
Locally speaking, there is a fear that the Rohingya refugees will be pawned off to a Bangladeshi island. While it would obviously benefit the Rohingya to stay out of Burma as the human rights abuses continue, by definition island life severely restrict the flow of resources needed for their people to survive, “never mind the fact that the island is prone to severe flooding,” another aid worker added. The government has officially scrapped this plan as their island of choice was made of silt and had only formed in 2006. Island or not, it’s this kind of wanton disregard for over 300,000 people that troubles most of the powerless Rohingya. They continue to try to find these people a new home, but as more and more refugees flood over, their ability to accommodate them becomes more difficult.
The fear among the Rohingya is not so much to be forced back into Burma, rather it is to be forgotten by the international community and driven lower on the list of priorities for the Bangladeshi government, thereby profoundly neglected. And in that sense, it would seem that Bangladesh is at a tipping point. As the media coverage begins to wane, aid organizations have expressed serious concerns that the Bangladeshi government will revert to their previous methods of misconduct and reject the dire aid the Rohingya desperately need.
Featured image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.