Bangladeshis pitch in to aid flee­ing ‘Mus­lim broth­ers’

Kuwait Times - - ANALYSIS - By Nick Perry, Sam Ja­han

Sa­jeed Has­san is spend­ing his school hol­i­days vol­un­teer­ing in a kitchen that pro­vides hot meals to Ro­hingya refugees, join­ing an army of or­di­nary Bangladeshis pitch­ing in as aid agen­cies strug­gle to cope with an over­whelm­ing tide of des­per­ate civil­ians. Some 370,000 refugees have flooded into Bangladesh in the last two and a half weeks flee­ing vi­o­lence in Myan­mar, a Bud­dhist-ma­jor­ity coun­try where the Mus­lim Ro­hingya mi­nor­ity has suf­fered decades of per­se­cu­tion.

Aid agen­cies have warned of an un­fold­ing hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis in pre­dom­i­nantly Mus­lim Bangladesh, an im­pov­er­ished na­tion of 160 mil­lion which is still reel­ing from dev­as­tat­ing floods. But or­di­nary cit­i­zens have turned out in droves to help their “Mus­lim broth­ers”. At the makeshift kitchen in his un­cle’s front yard near the bor­der town of Tek­naf, Has­san works along­side about a dozen vol­un­teers pack­ag­ing hot meals of rice and lentils, stir­ring bub­bling caul­drons of meat stew over open fires. “They are Mus­lims, and they are com­ing from an­other coun­try, that’s why we are help­ing,” Has­san, 12 said. “They have come from far away, and they are suf­fer­ing.”

The Ro­hingya have cen­turies-old ties to the Chit­tagong re­gion over the bor­der in Bangladesh, and images on so­cial me­dia pur­port­edly show­ing abuses against the Mus­lim mi­nor­ity have stoked im­mense sym­pa­thy here. “Some­times they come to my res­tau­rant, eat, and then let us know they don’t have any money,” said Ab­dul Khalek at his sim­ple road­side stall with a tar­pau­lin roof and mud floor. “But I don’t mind. It is a duty from a Mus­lim brother to an­other to help in dis­tress.”

Bangladesh al­ready hosted at least 300,000 Ro­hingya refugees in squalid camps along its bor­der with Myan­mar be­fore this lat­est in­flux, of­fer­ing sanc­tu­ary for more than three decades to civil­ians flee­ing vi­o­lence and per­se­cu­tion in neigh­bor­ing Rakhine State. But this fresh wave is un­prece­dented in its mag­ni­tude, push­ing con­di­tions at the camps to the ab­so­lute limit. Char­i­ties are warn­ing of an un­fold­ing hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis as Bangladesh pushes for a diplo­matic so­lu­tion to close the flood­gates.

At the con­gested mar­ket near Ku­tu­pa­long refugee camp, where chil­dren bang on the win­dows of pass­ing cars plead­ing for food, Bangladeshis are help­ing out with what­ever mea­gre re­sources they have. Some of th­ese free­lance re­lief ef­forts are sham­bolic, with tremen­dous crushes and chil­dren knocked down as do­nated sup­plies are tossed from mov­ing trucks. As the cri­sis en­ters its third week, pa­tience is also run­ning thin among some Bangladeshis liv­ing near the bor­der, where many earn lit­tle. Prices for food and other sta­ples have soared in lo­cal mar­kets, which have be­come choked with chronic traf­fic and large num­bers of beg­gars. Kuilla Mia, a tea seller work­ing a street cor­ner amid a chaotic swirl of refugees, said he had noth­ing to spare.

“I would like to give them a dis­count, but I can­not be­cause the price of su­gar is high,” he said. Bangladesh-which ini­tially or­dered bor­der guards to turn back new­com­ers be­fore the ef­fort be­came fu­tile­has been praised for tak­ing on the bur­den de­spite its own press­ing chal­lenges as one of the re­gion’s poor­est coun­tries. The plight of the Ro­hingya, who are re­viled and de­nied cit­i­zen­ship in Myan­mar, has par­tic­u­larly roused emo­tion across the Is­lamic world.

On Tues­day, Prime Min­is­ter Sheikh Hasina toured Ku­tu­pa­long, one of the big­gest camps, where she was seen con­sol­ing a young Ro­hingya boy. ”I can’t hold back the tears in eyes as I look at this scene... Why should peo­ple suf­fer such pain?” she said, ac­cord­ing to pri­vate news por­tal bd­news24.com. Bangladeshi author­i­ties have said they will reg­is­ter all new ar­rivals, set­ting up booths in the camps to col­lect fin­ger­prints and fam­ily in­for­ma­tion. Hasina wants the Ro­hingya re­turned to what she has la­belled their “an­ces­tral home­land” in Myan­mar. “Myan­mar has cre­ated the prob­lem and it will have to re­solve it,” she told par­lia­ment on Mon­day.

Dhaka has pointed to a deal with Yan­gon in 1992 that saw more than 236,000 Ro­hingya repa­tri­ated as “mem­bers of Myan­mar so­ci­ety”. Mo­ham­mad Hus­sain, a lentil ven­dor, said he was giv­ing away what he could, but Bangladeshis alone could not be ex­pected to care for all the refugees. “If aid doesn’t ar­rive from abroad, then th­ese peo­ple will be in se­ri­ous dan­ger,” he said. But for young Has­san, the ex­pe­ri­ence has been mov­ing. “I feel great help­ing them, and I want to do more,” he said. — AFP

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