Rohingya refugees

Trapped in a half-life, Rohingya refugees yearning to break free

Three years ago, the Rohingya fled from their homes in Myanmar in the hope of a better future. The Straits Times enters the Bangladeshi refugee camps to get an insight into the ongoing refugee crisis.
A Rohingya teen taking on the role of a barber, cutting the hair of a young boy at the Kutupalong camp. Rohingya men filling bags with bricks at the Kutupalong camp on July 18. Till earlier this year, some camp residents earned some money by helping
Rohingya refugees going about their daily lives (above) and traversing the hilly terrain at the Kutupalong megacamp in Bangladesh's Cox's Bazar district last month. Fleeing the violence in Myanmar for the safety of Bangladesh across the border, about 919,000 Rohingya refugees thought they had escaped the death penalty. Now they find themselves staring at a life sentence - squashed in cell-like units, ill, hungry and stuck with endless time on their hands. About 626,000 people are squeezed into a 12 sq km area, with only 6,000 overflowing latrines for everyone to use. A bunch of smaller camps accommodate the rest of the refugees. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG
A Rohingya teen taking on the role of a barber, cutting the hair of a young boy at the Kutupalong camp. Rohingya men filling bags with bricks at the Kutupalong camp on July 18. Till earlier this year, some camp residents earned some money by helping
Rohingya refugees going about their daily lives and traversing the hilly terrain (above) at the Kutupalong megacamp in Bangladesh's Cox's Bazar district last month. Fleeing the violence in Myanmar for the safety of Bangladesh across the border, about 919,000 Rohingya refugees thought they had escaped the death penalty. Now they find themselves staring at a life sentence - squashed in cell-like units, ill, hungry and stuck with endless time on their hands. About 626,000 people are squeezed into a 12 sq km area, with only 6,000 overflowing latrines for everyone to use. A bunch of smaller camps accommodate the rest of the refugees. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG
A Rohingya teen taking on the role of a barber, cutting the hair of a young boy at the Kutupalong camp. Rohingya men filling bags with bricks at the Kutupalong camp on July 18. Till earlier this year, some camp residents earned some money by helping
Rohingya men filling bags with bricks at the Kutupalong camp on July 18. Till earlier this year, some camp residents earned some money by helping to build latrines and bridges in the camp, earning an average of 400 takas each time. Now the army has taken over most of the construction work to speed things up and, ironically, this has cost the Rohingya a source of income.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG
A Rohingya teen taking on the role of a barber, cutting the hair of a young boy at the Kutupalong camp. Rohingya men filling bags with bricks at the Kutupalong camp on July 18. Till earlier this year, some camp residents earned some money by helping
A refugee with a box of relief items near the Balukhali camp in Cox's Bazar. To buy things that they need, camp residents sell the relief material. ''Already the food is not enough for them,'' says Dr Anik Sanjoy at a health centre in Kutupalong. ''When they sell some of it to buy other things, they eat even less.''ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG
A Rohingya teen taking on the role of a barber, cutting the hair of a young boy at the Kutupalong camp. Rohingya men filling bags with bricks at the Kutupalong camp on July 18. Till earlier this year, some camp residents earned some money by helping
A Rohingya teen taking on the role of a barber, cutting the hair of a young boy at the Kutupalong camp.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

This is the day-to-day existence endured by nearly a million Rohingya in refugee camps in Bangladesh, after fleeing violence in Myanmar that culminated in a massacre by the military a year ago this month. The Sunday Times visited the place to give this first-hand account.

The family's possessions are few and all their clothes are strung across a short nylon line in the flimsy structure of bamboo and tarpaulin that serves as home.

But when Mr Mohd Abdul Hamid starts to speak of life in the Rohingya camps, his wife Salama Khatoon goes to a corner of the hut and fishes out two articles of clothing that she keeps apart from the rest. One is pink, the other blue, and they belonged to the couple's daughter, Unaishya, who died in this camp where the family live with their three remaining children. The couple stare in silence at the only items they can remember their daughter by.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 12, 2018, with the headline 'Trapped in a half-life, yearning to break free'. Print Edition | Subscribe