Hindu Rohingya refugees also wait for a home

Less than a kilometre from the gates of the world’s largest refugee settlement, in southeast Bangladesh, 101 Hindu Rohingya families wait to be rescued from their status as the “minority” within the world’s most persecuted minority community — the Muslim Rohingyas.

The Hindu Rohingya families — nearly 410 people, most of them children — live in a ‘Hindu Camp’, located just outside Camp 1, the first of 27 refugee settlements that make up the Kutupalong-Balukhali camps, the largest in the world.

Over 1.1 million Rohingya Muslims live here after being forced to flee Myanmar following the brutal campaign of violence by the Myanmar army that began on August 26, 2017.

Visibly different

The Hindu Camp stands out from the rest of the sprawling refugee settlement.

It is the only camp with round-the-clock police presence. The women, wearing colourful saris and bangles, and sporting a vermillion
sindoor
, are visibly different. The camp is built around a small bamboo and tarpaulin temple to Lord Krishna and his consort Radha. The families have been segregated from the main camp, as a measure of “abundant caution”, says Mohammad Reza, in-charge of the oldest refugee camps that came into existence after the first wave of violence against the Rohingyas in 1991-92.

“The Bangladesh government decided to place them outside the main camp because, inside the camps, if something went wrong, we wouldn’t be able to provide them security,” Mr. Reza explained.

Controversial law

Tensions between Rohingya Muslims and Buddhists in Myanmar’s Rakhine state have existed for decades. The inflection point came in 1982, when Myanmar passed the controversial Burmese Citizenship Law. It stripped eight ethnicities of citizenship. Even though the Rohingyas were not among them, almost overnight, the community lost its freedom and, over decades, has been violently persecuted.

In the 1991 violence, only six affected families were Hindu, among the 30,000 Rohingya Muslims who fled to the refugee camps. “Those families were integrated with the Rohingya Muslim community. They continue to have good relations but we do not want to take a chance with the refugees who have arrived since August 2017,” said Mr. Reza, explaining that when everyone is fighting for resources — land, food and shelter — tensions can intensify.

The ‘majhi’ or camp leader for the Hindu Rohingya families is 32-year-old Shishu Sheel, who was forced to flee from his home in the Maungtaw district in Rakhine on August 28 last year. “When neighbouring Hindu villages were attacked, my wife, two children and I decided to leave before the army attacked our village. My parents stayed back,” Mr. Sheel says. His entire village, Chikanchari, decided to evacuate after ‘clearance operations’ by the Myanmar army in the neighbouring Hindu village of Fakirabazaar, where 86 persons were allegedly killed.

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