Eight months later, the refugees know better. The hilly tract of land that’s been converted into a tent city now offers shelter to close to eight lakh of them. Multiple bamboo bridges connect a dusty road from the entrance of the camp to the main valley that is dotted with shelter homes, learning centre, health clinics, stitching units, tubewells, a masjid and even a cemetery.
The Bangladesh government and various international agencies have ensured that those who had fled Myanmar’s Rakhine state now have better living conditions. The refugees are happy that they don’t need to worry about where their next meal or medicines will come from. They have been given ID cards.
“Trauma care centres are addressing their psychological issues. Children are given basic education. To prevent radicalisation, we have motivation programmes. There have been no reports of trafficking,” says Shamimul Huq Pavel, the camp-in-charge of five camps at Kutupalong.
The onset of monsoons when the camp might get flooded and the muddy roads get water-logged is their only immediate worry. But soon, the Bangladesh government plans to shift them to a place next to this camp to ensure safety.
However, the bigger question now concerning everyone is their repatriation. On April 14, five Rohingya refugees had crossed over. Soon after, Myanmar issued a statement claiming to have repatriated the first family of five members — a matter dubbed as Myanmar’s public relations stunt. At the Commonwealth Summit in London, Bangladesh PM Sheikh Hasina had said, “Maybe (Myanmar) wants to show the world they are taking them back. It’s a good sign. If they want, then why only one family? We have already submitted the names of 8,000 families, but they’ve not taken them back.”
Back at Kutupalong, the refugees are divided over the repatriation issue. Rape survivor Tamija Khatun, 20, sitting in a corner of a stitching unit, lifts her black veil and softly says, “One night, just two months after my marriage, this person just entered our house. I watched him fell my husband into pieces in front of my eyes. Then, he jumped on me like an animal and raped me.” After seven months at the camp, the young widow is still counting her losses. “Do I return to insecurity and fear of being raped again? I will return only if I am assured of my dignity and rights.”
A 28-year-old man pulls out his mobile phone to show gory photos of his beheaded neighbours in Myanmar as part of “ethnic cleansing”.
But, there are some who still dream of returning despite all the odds. “Life is better here but the place where one is born will always remain the motherland. Had the military not tortured me, I’d have never fled from there. Someday, I hope to return to my roots,” says Anisul Rahman.
Bangladesh government too is hoping for a voluntary repatriation. It has extended welcome on humanitarian grounds. But overstaying the welcome is something that the densely populated country can now ill-afford.