Village of Taungbro on the Naf River accross from Bangladesh
Photo Credit: Nora Rowley
About 30,000 Rohingya in Bangladesh are officially recognized as refugees and reside in two United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) monitored refugee camps. However, this is a small sample size of the Rohingya population in Bangladesh. Up to 300,000 Rohingya are not provided refugee status, receive little or no humanitarian assistance and live clandestinely throughout southern Bangladesh. They work as underpaid day laborers and are living a hand-to mouth existence. Vulnerable, exploited, harassed and frequently the targets of mistreatment and abuse, they have time and again turned to each other for protection, creating makeshift camps for security that ultimately become rife with disease, malnutrition and abject poverty.
In 2008 a makeshift camp was created as a result of the threat of eviction during a voter registration campaign in Bangladesh. This displaced thousands of unrecognized Rohingya. In less than two years, the Kutupalong Makeshift Camp the home to 34,000 unrecognized Rohingya. Aid workers have mentioned that the conditions for Rohingya in Kutupalong Makeshift Camp are some of the worst they have seen.
Rohingya have sought safety in Bangladesh during the June 2012 tension, journeying by sea in barely seaworthy wooden boats, or crossing the border at the Naf River or alternative routes. Although there is a substantial Rohingya population existing in Bangladesh, when sectarian violence broke out in June, the Bangladeshi government, in violation of its international legal obligations towards asylum seekers, ordered its border guards and naval services to prevent anyone from crossing the border. Rohingya men, women, and children arrived onshore and pleaded for mercy from Bangladesh authorities, only to be pushed back to sea, putting them at grave risk of drowning or persecution in Burma. It is unknown how many died in these pushbacks. Those who were able to enter Bangladesh remain in hiding with no official protection from the Bangladeshi government or the UN and no access to humanitarian assistance due to the policy decisions by the Bangladesh government.