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Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh face uncertain future

DHAKA (Bangladesh): The Rohingya refugees living in Bangladesh are not sure that they will be retunring to their homes in Myanmar.

At the Rohingya refugee camp in Bangladesh Cox’s Bazar, bamboo huts with makeshift tarpaulin roofs stretch across the hilly horizon as far as the eye can see. One can also see flags with the names of aid organisations rippling in the breeze.

Along the road, young boys carry reusable orange butane tanks up a hill to get in line for the day, to wait for free cooking gas, while men walk by carrying white bags of rice to bring back to their families.

“Compared to Myanmar, Bangladesh still feels like paradise,” Metun, a Rohingya refugee who has been living in Kutupalong refugee camp since 2017, told Al-Jazeera.

“But the conditions here are inhumane.”

Two years have passed since more 700,000 Rohingya refugees arrived to Bangladesh, after fleeing violence by the Myanmar military, which the UN said bears the “hallmarks of a genocide”.

These refugee camps along the Bangladesh-Myanmar border have become the most populated in the world.

“For the everyday Rohingya, the situation is still chronically difficult,” said human rights specialist John Quinly III, who works with human rights organisation Fortify Rights.

“There are still problems with access to services, access to info, and basic things like referral systems are still not totally in place. However situation has stabilised. So it’s not a mass crisis like it was before when people don’t know where to get services, or who to talk to.”

While the camps are still considered by the Bangladesh government and aid officials to be temporary shelters, many of the residents say that their concerns have switched from everyday survival to longer-term concerns as the prospect for a speedy repatriation dwindles.

“I do not anticipate being able to return within five years, so I am preparing myself to be here for longer,” said Metun.

“If we have to stay here for a long time, I would like the Rohingya to benefit from education, security, refugee status, better access to secondary health care, and employment.”

Rohingya refugees in the camps lack of access to education, with both the Myanmar and Bangladesh curricula not being permitted to be taught in the camps. This has left more than 683,000 children without access to education.

“Children should be in school, but there are no schools for them,” said Metun. “If they stay five or six years here, they will be unable or willing to go back to school. The longer we stay here, the more children will be lost.”

While security is provided around the perimeter of the camps, there is little within the camps, including when they go dark at night due to the lack of electricity.

Metun expressed concerns of women and children being targeted for human trafficking.

In the 2019 Trafficking in Persons Report published by the United States Department of State, it was found that, “the government of Bangladesh does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking, but is making significant efforts to do so,” with a large section of the country’s profile focused on the trafficking of the Rohingya.

“International organisations allege some Bangladeshi border guard, military, and police officials facilitate trafficking of Rohingya, including accepting bribes from traffickers to gain access to camps.”

The Bangladesh government has said it plans to place fences around the camps- something that the Rohingya say will only lead to more safety concerns.