In the morning at 8:00 am we depart to the refugee camps located 300 km south-east of Cox’s Bazar and 7 km from the border with Burma (Myanmar). There we meet some Rohingya refugees, an ethnic, linguistic and religious minority from Myanmar. The systematic and continuous persecution, for more than fifty years, leads Rohingya people to seek refuge in Bangladesh.
In 1991, the Burmese government launched the persecution campaign Operation Pyi Thaya (or Operation Clean and Beautiful Nation), which led more than 250,000 Rohingya to move to Bangladesh and the Bangladeshi government to request assistance from UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency.
Today, UNHCR has a head office in the capital Dhaka and its operational headquarters in Cox’s Bazar, and it’s daily in the refugee camps.
First stop: Kutupalong hosts 12,568 refugees registered and approved. We are greeted by the officer appointed by the government to be in charge of the camp, who reports directly to the Ministry of Disaster Management for Relief (MDMR), and he details the life and statistics in the field.
We visit the general food distribution where refugees have access to collect the ration of food that provides the necessary nutrient supply.
We access the community technology area in which the children are taught how to use personal computers, thanks to donations from the IKEA Foundation of photovoltaic panels and computers.
We enter the library, where refugees can constantly stay up to date thanks to newspapers and books offered by the British Council. After this, we went to the vocational area where some boys welcomed us with a musical moment.
The must joyful and exciting moment was reserved for Long Beach Primary School: Each class has a dedicated welcome in relation to their education. We gave each child a little thought with pleasure and found that the classrooms are supported with Sunnan solar lamps donated by the IKEA Foundation in 2012.
Then we meet representatives of the Rohingyan refugees: men, women, youth and children express requests, proposals, hopes and dreams.
In the women’s centre, women can learn how to cut and sew textiles, thanks to the donation of sewing machines by Uniqlo, a Japanese clothing company.
In the next block people are engaged in crafts of carpentry, tailoring, electrical repairs, and the production of toothpaste.
The vocational training opportunities, that are given to children over 15 years, helps to skill the refugees to produce basic necessities in the camp.
The camp preserves the culture of this ethnic group, thanks to the Myanmar Language Lab, where children learn phonics and writing in their mother tongue.
On the streets of the camp hovers the enthusiasm of an enterprising population that builds on the opportunities of international donations.
Second stop: on the way to the other camp we stop at Kutupalong High School, where we see a banner saying “Solar Lamp Distribution Ceremony”.
Third stop: Nayapara Refugee Camp hosts 18,475 registered and approved refugees.
Here, too, we are welcomed by the Camp-in-Charge, who presents the situation in his refugee camp. We visit the primary health care centre, managed by the Ministry of Health, which gives care and first-aid assistance to all refugees.
The school gives us the opportunity to sit in the classroom and to share little moments of teaching.
We are invited into the homes of refugees: a spirit of openness and acceptance. Their homes are completely dark even in the daytime. The distribution programme of lamps from UNHCR and the IKEA Foundation will ensure every child can learn, the right of every person. Their kitchens are powered by biogas supplied through a project of the IKEA Foundation.
The water supply is through the collection of rain water treated through the sedimentation basins, then subsequent treatment and water purification. It is distributed through public fountains. The future of this situation is the construction of a dam already in place to create a reservoir and subsequent transfer mechanism with hydraulic water purification plant.
Leaving this area is difficult. We met people who have touched the heart. The last call through the car window is the demand from a kid: “Do not forget us.”
The unregistered Rohingya refugees, scattered in the countryside in the south of Bangladesh, are between 300,000 and 500,000. For them, rights are not yet guaranteed.
Ciao da Michela, Tatiana, Salvatore