Life as a Rohingya in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh

Munem Wasif is an international award-winning documentary photographer from Bangladesh who has been published worldwide and has exhibited in France, Iran, Japan, the Netherlands, Cambodia, London and Bangladesh.

I have been visiting the Rohingya camps since 2008. When I stand on top of the hills now, the magnitude of the camps is unbelievable. The amount of people living in such a congested place is alarming. The proportion of Rohingyas and host communities are unbalanced, which could create a lot of other problems in the long run if we do not take proper steps.

One of few places where I felt there is still hope is the child friendly spaces, where Rohingya kids write, draw and sing in their mother tongue. They plan with each other and develop friendships. The amount of violence and trauma they have undergone is shocking. Their experiences are reflected in some interviews and drawings, but these kids need proper counseling and protection. I was amazed to see how quickly they have adapted in a new environment after losing loved ones, leaving homes, crossing the sea and jungle without any food. They have built their houses, helped each other in most difficult times. Their strength and resilience touched me. Life goes on.

-Munem Wasif 
 Photographer, Vu

Imagine waking up to gunshots. Your village is under attack in the middle of the night. You run for your life, holding on to your loved ones, and leaving behind neigbours you have known all your life, tortured and dead. You travel for days through jungles without any food or shelter. You finally cross your country’s border. You leave your home behind to save your life.

This is the story of more than 700,000 Rohingyas who arrived in Bangladesh since 25 August 2017.

Now imagine your backyard. It was once a lush forest, home to wild elephants and birds. There were green fields where you grew vegetables to sell and support your family. Now thousands of newcomers are living there. They have no possessions, no food, and nowhere else to go. You give everything you can to those who have nothing.

This is the story of the local Bangladeshi community in Cox’s Bazar to Teknaf who continue to offer their space and their hearts to the Rohingya community.

Today both communities are living together, wondering what the future holds.

The threat of the current monsoon season is stark. 125,000 people are living in landslide and flood-prone areas, and this number could easily rise given the unique topography of the area.

Shelters are being strengthened to prepare for any kind of weather. BRAC is establishing safe zones and is rolling out an integrated plan to mitigate danger from extreme weather.

Many needs still remain immediate: water, food, shelter, and security. Resilience prevails even though the situation is dire.

Many locals are working in the camps. Many Rohingyas are also actively volunteering, and rebuilding their skills, knowledge and support networks in the process.

Mothers everywhere around the world want their children safe. 
More than half the Rohingya people are children under the age of 18.

Among them are many are unaccompanied. More than 5,500 households are led by a child.

Our 234 child-friendly spaces and 365 learning centres in the camps and in Ukhiya and Teknaf are safe, colourful places for children to be children. They sing, learn and play with friends.

Hundreds of reports of sexual violence are reported weekly.

Prevention and protection mechanisms are in place and are being continually improved.

Women and girls are utilising their sewing skills in our women-friendly spaces, sharing, learn and gaining strength together.

Disease outbreaks, such as diphtheria, have taken lives. Health risks still remain.

Humanitarian agencies, under the leadership of the Bangladesh Government, are committed to utilising early warning detection surveillance. The simplest challenges, like diarrhea, are a constant threat.

Site are managed by partners and agencies, with safety being the highest priority.

More than 1,200 hectares of forests have been destroyed.

Collecting firewood is a daily practice, with 2,250 tonnes burnt every day.

Children smile and fly kites.

Some have found love.

BRAC has been the largest responder on the ground in Cox’s Bazar from the start, with a team of 2,200 people, including over 1,500 from the host communities of Ukhiya and Teknaf. We are also involving close to 2,000 people from the Rohingya community. We are actively implementing comprehensive interventions designed to meet the immediate needs of everyone affected by the crisis. We are also building skills, resilience, and awareness that will help in the longer term as the situation evolves.