The Kutupalong refugee camp, assigned to Rohingya refugees who fled here during the early 1990s, has now been extended in every direction. Scattered across 3,000 acres of previously forested land, it will become home to more than a million people. Plans are underway to coax earlier arrivals of Rohingya refugees out of the makeshift dwellings and onto the rambling hills where they have been assigned shelter. There is no direct access by road; supplies have to be delivered by foot. The weather is oppressive. The searing heat is only interrupted by monsoon rain or severe gusts of wind. The thought of the camp’s fate during the coming cyclone season fills the humanitarian community with dread, as do other looming hazards. A fire in a tent, or the outbreak of disease, will sweep across the camp with a fury that will be difficult to tame. Doctors Without Borders has described health conditions in the camp as a “time bomb.” The government is still toying with the reckless idea of moving the Rohingya refugees offshore, to a pair of uninhabited and uninhabitable silt islands that have barely emerged into view. Meanwhile, criminal gangs, human traffickers, armed groups and others who sense opportunity in misery are a constant menace. Every refugee I spoke to said they wanted to go home — but not before “shanti,” or peace, returns. It will not be enough for the violence to stop. The cruel, entrenched system of discrimination and segregation that made them so vulnerable in the first place has to be dismantled. The Rohingya cannot be left living in fear of a fresh wave of violence that will drive them across the border yet again, condemned to their tragic status as a perpetually unwanted people. For that to happen, Myanmar’s military must be held accountable and Bangladesh’s government must be helped with its burden. This is not a crisis that will disappear any time soon, and unless there is a determined global response over the long-term, it could become worse still. The plight of the Rohingya is a test — a moment that demands the international community demonstrate that the words “never again” still carry some meaning.
The Rohingya cannot be left living in fear of a fresh wave of violence that will drive them across the border yet again, condemned to their tragic status as a perpetually unwanted peopleOmar Waraich