Rohingya Of Myanmar Remain In Refugee Camps In Bangladesh

Aug 11, 2018
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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

It's been almost a year since an eruption of violence in Myanmar drove hundreds of thousands of ethnic Rohingya across the border into Bangladesh. Nearly a million Rohingya now live in a series of makeshift camps that include the largest refugee camp in the world. NPR's Jason Beaubien is in the Kutupalong camp and joins us now. Jason, thanks so much for being with us.

JASON BEAUBIEN, BYLINE: It's good to be with you.

SIMON: It's the monsoon season in Bangladesh. What are the conditions like for the people who live there?

BEAUBIEN: I mean, they've really settled into these camps. You know, they fortified their shelters. When it rains, the places just turn to mud, the sort of walkways in between the shelters all quickly flood. People have tied down their roofs. This is on some really sandy hills that they've set up these camps. And as people came in, they - one of the first things that happened was they stripped, like, all the vegetation away. Their animals either ate it. Or they used the wood to cook fires. And so a lot of those hillsides have been collapsing. So at the moment, you're getting people coming in and just putting tarps and sandbags over hillsides. It's quite an effort just to keep things from falling in on itself. But people are surviving.

SIMON: And a huge number of people - how do they live from day to day?

BEAUBIEN: You know, for the most part, people are surviving off international food aid. They get rations from the U.N. from the World Food Programme. There are also other charities that are handing out food. They technically are not allowed to work here in Bangladesh. But people are figuring things out, you know? People are starting little barbershops. People are starting to grow things. There are, like, some work programs that they're able to do with some of the aid agencies. People are selling fruit on the streets. People are just scraping together a little bit of money however they can. And yeah. That's how people are basically living here. They technically are not allowed to work. And they're technically not allowed to leave these encampments.

SIMON: Jason, from what you can see there, what - are the Rohingya at all interested? Do they think they can go back to Myanmar because they're not made exactly welcome in Bangladesh, are they?

BEAUBIEN: No, they are not. The Bangladesh government has made it clear that they want them to go back, that it's a huge burden on what's already an incredibly poor country, Bangladesh. And Bangladesh would like them to go back. But Myanmar has also made it very clear that they don't really want them despite making some overtures saying that they will welcome them back. It is the million-dollar question here. I mean, some people want to go back. They say that's our home over there in Myanmar. You know, Bangladesh is not our country. And they feel like if they are going to have a state anywhere in the world that it's there. But then there are other people who just say no way. I talked to a woman yesterday. And she watched much of her family get killed before her very eyes last August. She says she was raped. She was beaten. And she told me she would drink a bottle of poison before she will re-cross that border and return to Myanmar.

SIMON: NPR's Jason Beaubien in one of the Rohingya refugee camps in southern Bangladesh - Jason, thanks so much for being with us.

BEAUBIEN: It's good to be with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.