With little to their name, locals in Bangladesh welcome Rohingya refugees with open arms
Bangladesh is not among the richest countries of the world. Most of the people live below the poverty line and struggle to make ends meet, even just to survive. But they are a resilient people with big hearts.
When the Rohingya arose in Bangladesh in August this year, the refugees were accommodated first by the local people of the coastal region of Cox’s Bazar, Teknaf and Ukhia. It was not the Government or the army or any humanitarian organization that gave the first refuge to these people. Upon hearing their horrific stories, it was the locals who offered them food, water and shelter. In a world where countries go to war over issues such as land and religion, Bangladeshis have come forward to embrace their ill-fated neighbors in a spirit of solidarity and brotherhood.
Friendship, a Bangladeshi NGO, sent a team to the refugee camp areas of Ukhia and Teknaf given the most recent influx of refugees. The team has been working relentlessly over the past month arranging medical camps, building temporary bridges, digging wells and providing sanitation facilities. Friendship is also formulating broader plans to provide additional services including special care units for expectant mothers and new born children. Security is another issue that Friendship is seriously looking into (especially the protection of vulnerable women and children).
During their first visits, the team witnessed numerous families sitting hungry and weak by the roadside. They were lost, with no idea where to go, what to do or where they would live since their homes in Myanmar had been burnt to ashes. These people were left with nothing — not even hope. They were also deeply traumatized having witnessed horrific scenes in their villages including the killing of family members before their very eyes.
Keen to speak to locals and refugees about how best to help, Friendship’s team set off to a small hill popularly known as “Tila” upon which about 80 families have settled. One of the Rohingyas, a young man in his mid-twenties came forward eager to speak of his gratitude towards the locals and of their generosity. With very little to their name, he said the locals had welcomed him and his family with open arms even before the organized aid arrived.
One of the locals Mr. Mansur Ali, now in his late forties, was a settler here in 1978. He has kept control and managed matters on the hill since then. When the latest influx of refugees began, he went down to meet them and immediately understood their situation. The arrival of Rohingya refugees is not really a new thing for the people in these areas since there have been other occasions when the Rohingya have had to flee persecution in Myanmar. However, this time round the sheer quantity of people is bewildering to witness. People are flooding in, wave after wave. Mansur invited them to set up makeshift houses on the hillside and tried as best he could to encourage them not to worry. He brought them food and asked his also neighbors to do likewise to feed as many people as they could. These locals are struggling to feed their own families and yet they readily came forward offering food and shelter to the newcomers. Not one eyebrow was raised about matters such as land ownership or how long the arrangement would last. People simply just came forward and helped.
When asked why they had done this Mansur replied “What else was there to do? They don’t know this place, they have no relatives here, where will they live and what will they eat? Old women, young mothers, little children… who will help them if we don’t?”
“This simple act of humanity touched us all” explains an emotional Runa Khan, Friendship’s founder and Executive Director. “These people had nothing when they arrived here. No food, no shelter, no clothing, no water… nothing. Bangladesh is a poor country. The whole world looks upon us now as people arrive in uncontrolled numbers…. In some countries such masses of political asylum seekers are met with aggression and are regarded as invaders…but here they are made welcome. This is incredible… I mean how much does this man have?” she says referring to Mansur. “But even with the little he has, he and all the people here have opened their own homes and offered land to the refugees! They have donated land for the clinics we are going to set up here… This generosity of spirit is something for the world to see.”
EMERGENCY APPEAL: The Rohingya refugees are in urgent need of aid. Please help us support them by donating now: www.friendship.ngo/rohingya
For more information about Friendship please visit www.friendship.ngo.