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Rohingya – what does it mean to be stateless?

Our delegation to Bangladesh set off on the 13th April 2015 –5 days of travelling across several districts of Bangladesh visiting and supporting the poor people of Bangladesh and Burma. The following details our experiences in Cox’s Bazar – a beautiful place that radiates a dawn heat that makes you feel alive, as you breathe in deeply the pure morning air.

Our day started early, driving along a scenic route affectionately named by the locals as the marine drive; a road that snakes alongside the longest unbroken natural beach in the world, all 78 miles of it. However, the picturesque scenery can mislead. The road is narrow – a chaotic crisscross of cars, rickshaws, cows and monstrous trucks all vying for space in the dangerously tight shoestring width of road. We journeyed along this pothole-ridden road for several hours. The southeastern district of Cox’s Bazar holds a unique distinction for Bangladesh: it carries the nation’s hopes of kick starting a tourist destination as the only ‘beach resort’ in Bangladesh.

The Rohingyan refugee camps in the Cox’s Bazar district is an inconvenient truth that Bangladesh does not want to identify with – a whole community of people who have been displaced and made refugees in the very lands that gave birth to their ancestors, themselves and their children.

Historically their lands were known as Arakan, a boiling point of tension, crudely torn apart by a military dictatorship that turned an indigenous Muslim minority upside down, abandoning them into a stateless limbo. What does it mean to be stateless? Imagine not being worth even counted amongst Bangladesh’s circa 130 ethnic groups; imagine being treated like an illegal immigrant, requiring permits for travel or even marriage! Imagine being barred from further education. If you can imagine all of this, then you know how it feels like to be stateless.

“torn apart by a military dictatorship that turned an indigenous Muslim minority upside down, abandoning them in a stateless limbo. “

The Rohingyan refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar are strangely unique places. To the ill-informed, cosmetically the sites of the refugee camps seems just like any other disadvantaged poor village characteristic of Bangladesh. But for those who dig a little deeper, the rudimentary bamboo and plastic membrane covered structures, that these unfortunate people call their home, hides the struggle of a people whose homes are as fragile as the sandbanks used to protect the beaches from the strong tides powering through from the Bay of Bengal.

It is believed that 300,000 Rohingya now live in Bangladesh. There are two official UN-recognised refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar; however, the vast majority is not recognised by Bangladesh. A graphic illustration of this Government disregard was evident in 2012, when Bangladesh turned away thousands of Rohingya fleeing sectarian violence in Rakhine State, Myanmar. Worldwide International criticism drew attention to the fact that three international aid agencies were banned from operating among these unregistered camps in Cox’s Bazar. This is in addition to the recent news of countless Rohingyan families stranded at sea.

We paid a visit to the unregistered refugee camps in Mohesh Khali, with a renewed intention to bring these people’s story to the world, an issue that has been ignored for years – oppression that has been so consistent that mistreatment and persistent disregard of these refugees has become institutionalised. It became apparent that our visit did not go unnoticed by the local authorities, who persisted in following our every move during our time in Cox’s Bazar.

It was an unnerving experience being followed by an unmarked vehicle with no number plate, making it clear we were being watched and chillingly followed. This type of intimidation further reinforced the fact that local authorities do not support the vital aid work that the Rohingyan refugees so desperately need.

As we were being followed, we decided that it would be best if the group split to visit our various projects across Cox’s Bazar. This was achieved by separating from the main vehicle, which continued its drive, visiting some of the tourist attractions that Cox’s Bazar is famous for, to keep our unwanted tail on a cold trail!

A pop up medical clinic has served as a vital service providing basic medical care, which otherwise is not available. Dr Mohammad, one of three doctors, told us that due to their stateless existence, the Rohingya have no hope of regular check-ups. This simplistic medical setup is a lifeline for these Rohingyan families; many have been diagnosed with illnesses that can be cured with treatment we take for granted in the UK. Dr Mohammad also said that frequently his patients are afraid of identifying themselves as Rohingyan.

Please continue supporting the Rohingyan cause to help alleviate their suffering and their struggle for survival.

Source: www.islam21c.com

About Mohbub Rahman

Mohbub is a Legal Risk Analyst and a volunteer relief worker for Human Aid UK.


  1. Tanveer Ahmed

    How does one go about helping these people. Is there any agency or organization that can be contacted that reliably offers help to these people. Publishing it here would help.

    National Strategy Paper on Myanmar Refugees and Undocumented Myanmar Nationals in Bangladesh
    Strengthening Bangladesh-Myanmar Border Management:
    It has been suggested that the Bangladesh-Myanmar border be brought under close surveillance through enhanced capacity building of the border security agencies with a view to arresting the continued influx of Myanmar nationals through irregular channels. It would be required to erect sufficient number of border outposts and observation towers along the entire border area, as feasible. The Bangladesh-Myanmar land border need to be sealed with barbed wire fencing, to the extent possible, and a 50 km long river dam suitable for patrolling be built on the Naaf river along the border between the two countries. It has been further suggested that identity cards be issued for Bangladeshi fishermen from the coastal areas in order to enhance supervision over their alleged activities in aid of influx of Myanmar nationals. In addition, intelligence and surveillance need to be strengthened in Coxs Bazar and other coastal districts to monitor the involvement of undocumented Myanmar nationals with subversive and criminal activities.

  3. Nusrat Shaikh.

    The shame is on the “Muslim countries” who have deliberately turned their backs in these beautiful people and refuse them their shores ! Every country sent them back on the Indian Ocean except the Phillipines. What a disgusting group of nations these “Muslim” countries are that national perseveration, their borders and national identities compromise of their aid criteria. I am appalled.

    The Rohingyas’ plight has been highlighted for over
    5 years now and not one Muslim nation has aided them. Shaikha Hasina of Bangladesh is a monster of a leader. Cruel and self -interest drive her treatment of these poor abandoned people. I am ashamed of ourselves that we Muslims allow our kin to be treated in this manner. So many nations could take these wretched and discarded people’s in and give them their dignity back. What a cruel, cruel leadership we have in our Muslim nations. Astaghfir rullah. May Allah swt grant them all the aj’r a Muhajir deserves and may He provide for them a source of help from a place where they didn’t expect.
    The prayers of the oppressed are never ignored and Allah swt only knows what theyust utter in their desperation as each are turned away from sanctuary.

  4. I have full sympathy for the Rohingas. But i think, this is a biased report. U cannot blame Bangladesh or Bangladeshi government this way.The main problem is that, the government of Myanmar is not recognizing Rohingas as the Citizens of Myanmar.Furthermore, u cant also ignore the fact that at least a poor and overpopulated country like Bangladesh has given shelter to around 3,00,000 rohingas.

  5. Ya Allah! Please relieve them, shower your mercy on them. Heal their hearts and body. And you are the Best of Inheritor -At-Tawab -Aameen

  6. The reason why we never hear about this is because BBC and sky news shape where Muslims give aid and what we think about more.

    If this was headline news on any of the main news outlets we would all be giving and doing whatever we could to help.

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