‘There Is No Noise’: Inside the Controversial Rohingya Bhasan Char Refugee Camp – A Photo Essay


Anonymous, as told to Shafiur Rahman | The Guardian - TRANSCEND Media Service

Amid concern from charities and NGOs, Bangladesh is relocating Rohingya refugees to a remote island. One resident describes his new life there.

11 Jan 2021 – The photographs from inside the oddly eastern European-looking accommodation on Bhasan Char, the swampy island being used by the Bangladeshi government to house Rohingya people, were taken by one of the refugees living there. We couldn’t publicly identify the photographer, or credit them with their rightful byline on the pictures, and that speaks volumes about the vulnerability of the Rohingya, whose activism and smart use of journalistic tools have helped keep their plight in the public eye, but who are now facing forceful arrest as the Bangladeshi authorities clamp down on such activities.

And on the subject of covering stories with the help of the people at their heart, I was really pleased to be able to run the thoughtful opinion piece co-written by Dedo Baranshamaje and Katie Bunten-Wamaru talking about how we still have this heavy, western, we-know-best slant in how we help poorer countries. The statistic that 99% of all aid money goes to white-led international organisations is truly shocking. In the US, less than 6% of charitable foundations’ funding goes to African-led initiatives. That points not only to devastatingly systematic racism, but also a deep disconnect between how money is spent – and how it would best be spent.

— Tracy McVeigh, editor, Global development

‘This is the main street in my cluster. There are three TomToms. They haul stuff for the navy. Not for the refugees.’ Photograph: Anonymous

I wanted to come here. No one forced me, and my wife also agreed in a snap.

To be honest, though, I didn’t tell my brother. He lives where I used to live – Kutupalong camp. He is very against this island for some reason. He might have tried to stop me coming if I dared to discuss the topic. So I didn’t. I only told him after I arrived. I was amazed that he didn’t yell at me.

Instead he wondered if he would ever see me again and even got a bit emotional.

‘The children have nothing to do but play. They said school will start soon’

Now when we phone each other, we compare facts and figures. On the island, we get 15kg of rice per head. They get only 13kg in the camps. We get 500g more dal and 1kg more potatoes here too. I am winning so far in our comparisons. We have been here just over one month. We are getting used to it.

For some reason, I don’t sleep properly. When I lie awake, in the dead of night, I can hear the sea and sometimes the horn of berthing ships. I feel a bit strange then but by the morning that feeling goes away. My children ask if their little friends from our neighbourhood back in the camp will come to the island. I really don’t know what to tell them. I guess they will find new friends here soon when their school starts.

There are tall buildings here. Refugees are not permitted in upper floors. Maybe they think we will kill ourselves?

There are a lot of children here, and when they play and get noisy it makes this island feel better, to tell you the truth –and less abnormal. The buildings are all the same here. We live on the ground floor. There are some tall buildings. Refugees are not permitted on the upper floors. Maybe they think we will kill ourselves?

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