A HUGE blaze in a refugee camp housing members of the Rohingya community in Bangladesh last week has left up to 5,000 people homeless, highlighting the miserable conditions the group continues to live in. Driven from their homes in Myanmar’s Rakhine state due to ethnic violence, hundreds of thousands live in subhuman conditions, mostly in Bangladeshi camps, where such tragedies are commonplace. The fire occurred at a camp in Cox’s Bazar and though fortunately there were no fatalities reported, thousands of people have been left under the open sky, with their meagre belongings turned to ashes. In a similar incident in March last year, at least 15 deaths occurred when a blaze ripped through what is described as the world’s largest refugee camp. Conditions at such camps are usually squalid, with men, women and children living in ramshackle structures. However, the other choices confronting the Muslim Rohingya are not very appealing: statelessness and violence in Myanmar, or risking their lives trying to make it to greener pastures aboard rickety boats. For the Rohingya, described as the world’s most persecuted minority by the UN, it seems that escaping death and privation, and finding respectable shelter are increasingly difficult tasks.
Of course, the basic problem is the fact that the Rohingya have been uprooted from their homes in Myanmar with “genocidal intent” as described by the UN. The military junta that presently rules Myanmar, as well as the hybrid set-up it overthrew, both did little to protect the Rohingya from deadly violence and in fact in many cases encouraged their persecution. Those Rohingya that are still left in Rakhine face immense hardships on free movement as well as in availing other basic facilities, while the threat of violence — from the junta as well as armed Buddhist groups — is never far. As the international community continues to call for a return to democracy in Myanmar, it must also keep reminding the ruling generals that the Rohingyas’ fundamental rights must be assured.
Published in Dawn, January 17th, 2022