Following massacres by the Burmese army in 2017, 740,000 Rohingya fled en masse to neighbouring Bangladesh, which confined them in the Cox’s Bazar refugee camp. Five years after this massive influx, Cox’s Bazar has become the most densely populated refugee camp in the world and the most dangerous too… threatened by floods, fires, and gang wars. Conditions are squalid but the alternative may be even worse.
Two years ago, the government of Bangladesh decided to move some of these refugees to the isolated island of Bhasan Char in the Bay of Bengal. Located four hours away, this military base, nicknamed “prison island”, has been transformed into a reception camp for the Rohingyas. Already 23,000 have been relocated and Dhaka hopes to transport 100,000 in total. For the first time since the camp opened in December 2020, Bangladesh has allowed a Western team to travel there. The aerial images are striking: a horizon of identical barracks that inevitably evokes a detention camp.
The island is vulnerable to cyclones and it is not certain that the dam built will be enough to protect its residents. Upon arriving on the island, families are assigned a personal space, but denied the possibility of working, without access to education and above all without the right to leave. “We don’t know how long we will stay here. Bangladesh will take us where it decides,” explains Mounir, settled for thirteen months with his wife and their three children, born on the island. He already regrets having made the journey.
But the government of Bangladesh does not want to grant the Rohingya the freedom to come and go, for fear that these refugees will mix with the population and end up integrating. Their ultimate goal is to relocate the refugees back to Burma.
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