Enote 68 – People at No BohJanuary 12, 2011
The people nobody wants:
This year, on our 20th trip to Asia, Liz and I visited for the first time, Bangladesh. We came here to visit the Rohingyas, a Muslim people from Burma. Burma doesn't want them, Bangladesh doesn't want them, nor does India, Thailand, nor any other country in the region. Malaysia may accept them if the Rohingyas can get there, but many have been caught and pushed out to sea, and died before they made it to safety. About 1.5 to 2 million Rohingyas have left Burma over the years, and the greatest concentration about half a million live here in Bangladesh, although only about 16,000 are recognized by the goverment authorities as legitimate refugees. The rest have no status, no rights, and suffer poverty, hunger and oppression. About 40,00 of them live right next to the recognized refugees, in an "unofficial camp".
The UN, which serves the "official refugees", provides, food, shelter, medical service, and education, but those only a few feet away, are denied these services. Some emergency medical services may be provided by the MSF, and we were told that people determined to be at certain dangerous levels of starvation were given some food. The "unoffical refugees can make some money by cutting and selling fire wood. It's dangerous womens work, because they are not infrequently raped while searching for wood. The picture on the left below shows the UN school, and the one on the right shows a small class taught in a home to some unofficial children. This latter program is supported by Children on the Edge, an NGO supporting children, in many places throughout the world. John Littleton of Children on the Edge guided us in our tour of the camp. I have never before seen such disparity in the treatment of children, and I cannot understand what set of circumstances and rules create unofficial children.
The following day, we visited the street children in the slums of Cox's Bazar. The picture on the left shows a typical slum scene. These children, rainging in age from eight to twelve, are a mixture of poor Bangladeshi citizens and Rohingya refugee children. They must work to help support their families, but some may attend school for three hours a day at drop-in centers. The centers have a morning and afternoon session and serve twenty-five students per session. The picture on the right shows some children in a drop-in site.
Working for the Rohingya in Bangladesh is quite difficult because the government has big political problems with them. Although most of the people share their Muslim faith, the country is so poor it cannot help them. In addition NGOs which help the refugees are not easily accepted by the poor Bengladeshi who wonder why they cannot get similar help in their own country. Thus it seems working with the street children which may be up to 40% refugee, is a way to serve both groups, and to avoid political problems.
Liz and I have made no decisions to work in Bangladesh, but we did have an emotional and thought provoking trip, and we made contact with several people who might be helpful to us should we decide to work there. We give special thanks for the time and guidance provided by John Littleton of Children on the Edge, and others. Everyone was very helpful.
- Jan. 6 Departed for Bangkok
- Jan.8 met with Janice Santikarn, and Doug Offenhartz
- Jan. 9 left for Calcutta
- Jan. 10 to Jan. 13 in Bangladesh
- Jan. 14. to Aizawl
- Currently meeting with students and local coworkers in Aizawl
It has been a very busy and week.
Best Wishes to all of you,