BANGLADESH: Rohingya waiter Solim Ullah, "I live in fear every day"
COX’S BAZAR, 22 February 2010 (IRIN) - Born and raised in Bangladesh, 17-year-old Solim Ullah* is a documented Rohingya refugee. He has a job as a waiter at a restaurant in Cox’s Bazar, southern Bangladesh’s most popular beach resort, but following a recent crackdown fears arrest.
Photo: David Swanson/IRIN
|Standing on the beach in Cox's Bazar, Solim Ullah ponders his own future
According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), there are an estimated 200,000 Rohingya - an ethnic and linguistic minority who fled neighbouring Myanmar en masse decades ago - in Bangladesh. Of these only 28,000 are documented, including 11,000 at the official Kutupalong refugee camp outside Cox’s Bazaar, and another 17,000 further south at Nayapara camp.
Solim told IRIN about his life - his hopes and fears:
“My family has lived in the Kutupalong refugee camp since 1991. For me it is nothing more than a prison.
“Although we receive assistance, there is no life for me there. We are barred from leaving the camp, barred from working, barred from doing anything that would make any person happy.
“It’s been four months since I left the camp and the authorities still don’t even know I am gone.
“There are a few other guys from the camp here working as well, but I don’t associate with them. I don’t dare, in case they get caught as well.
“I know what I’m doing is illegal. In fact it’s dangerous, but what choice do I have? No one here knows that I am Rohingya. If they did, I would be fired and be arrested. Worse still, I would probably be beaten.
“But that is the reality of being a Rohingya in Bangladesh, and I live in fear every day of being discovered.
“My family is from northern Rakhine State in Myanmar, where my father worked as a farmer. Life was OK, but we faced lots of problems there.
“Over time, things began to worsen and eventually our land was confiscated. At one point, the authorities demanded every Muslim household hand over one boy for work. And no, the idea of refusing wasn’t an option.
“Ultimately, we fled to Bangladesh where I was born and have lived ever since.
“But we are hardly welcome here either. In fact, many Bangladeshis look down upon us. They discriminate against us. They say we don’t belong here and should return to our country - a country I’ve never even been to. Some see us as less than human and take advantage of us. And if we do work, we are always paid less.
“I would like to do something with my life, but there are limited educational opportunities in the camp, and I want more.
“Isn’t that normal? To want to make the most of your life? To do what you want freely? Every day on the beach I see people doing just that. Doing what they want, being free. Surely I should have the same right. I am human after all.”
(* not his real name)