Contributed by: Immanuel Chayan Biswas 
  Field officer, FCCPP

Asian Bishops and social development leaders met Rohingyas and showed their solidarity at the world largest refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar’s Ukhiya on 12th February 2019. They are on a week visit to Bangladesh to assess Migrants, refugees, the displaced and human trafficking and renewable energy options in the Asian context.

At Kutupalong camp in Ukhiya, the leaders talked to some of one million Rohingyas, who fled from Rakhine during a brutal military crackdown in late August 2017. By the end of 2017, there have been nearly one million Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar – of whom 700,000 have arrived since 25 August 2017, added to the 300,000 who came after similar waves of violence in the past. This means that more Rohingyas now live in Bangladesh than in their homeland.

Six groups of nine led by six Bishops have met and experienced six major sectoral interventions of Caritas Bangladesh in four of more than 30 camps. The Refugees told of their plight and the disappearance of their family members and their current circumstances. The Bishops and social development leaders asked questions and the Refugees answered the questions.

The bishops and social leaders were delighted to meet the Rohingyas and experience their circumstances from a close range.They talked to several other Rohingya people and listened to their experience of torture, violence, killing and arson attacks in Rakhine State. They took their suggestions on what measures should be taken for their safe repatriation to their homeland.

His Excellency Bishop Allwyn D’Silva was wailed after visiting Barefoot Counselling (BFC) programs. He met a few youths and adolescent girls and wanted to know about their ordeal in Myanmar. He also enquired about their well-being and situation in Bangladesh.

“Seeing the condition of the migrants”- says the bishop. “With our own eyes has given us the real view to understanding how to deal with the rising issue of migrants, refugees, and human trafficking”- he continues. “Being able to visit Bangladesh and observe such an act done by Caritas Bangladesh where they have strategically organized shelter and sanitation for the migrants while saving their dignity is praiseworthy.”

The ongoing humanitarian crisis has caused suffering on a catastrophic scale. According to UNHCR, more than one million refugees have arrived since 25 August 2017 and few are still coming in a small group. This means that more Rohingyas now live in Bangladesh than in their homeland. Not only the pace of new arrivals since 25 August 2017 has made this the fastest growing refugee crisis in the world but the concentration of refugees in Cox’s Bazar is now amongst the densest in the world. Refugees arriving in Bangladesh—mostly women and children—are traumatized, and some have arrived with serious injuries caused by gunshots, shrapnel, fire, and landmines. But everyone has a story to tell that includes some of the worst forms of human rights violations suffered over a long time.

Caritas Bangladesh hosted their visit and showed their shelter, WaSH, barefoot counseling, child-friendly space, renewable energy and disaster risk reduction interventions in the refugee camp.

Caritas Bangladesh has strategically designed the layout of the camp where they have the facility to build handmade shelters constructed by the Rohingyas themselves within a selected area with proper sanitary facilities and solar ventilation. Children are also provided education there in a secluded area where they can be away from all the chaos and aggressiveness to educate themselves in a healthy environment.

His Excellency Bishop Sebastian Tudu of Dinajpur Diocese was impressed by seeing children speaking in English while every child greeted the visitors with “hello” and “how are you?”

It was also impressive to see how Caritas Bangladesh has developed Disaster Risk Reduction by constructing barriers out of bamboo to diminish soil erosion. They also provide training to the locals in the camp to maintain a peaceful and respectful environment inside the camp.

The chairman of peace and justice commission of Catholic Bishop Conference Bangladesh (CBCB), His Excellency Bishop Gervas Rozario said, “It is commendable to see how the team is working so hard to make a sustainable and dignified living for the Rohingyas even though the government is taking it as a temporary project. If we look into the past when the Rohingyas first entered Bangladesh, they were very aggressive and scared. But now as development is taking process, they are becoming much more open to new ideas of living. This concept can be clearly seen when visiting child-friendly spaces where children are enjoying while learning.” The Bishop also believes it is a way Caritas Bangladesh is showing the country that humanity is the top priority here and we should all come forward to help Rohingyas have a healthy and ethical living standard in Bangladesh, regardless the duration of their stay.

After the visit of His Eminence Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, this visit shows the solidarity of Christian leaders to the migrants.  A total number of 48 delegates from India, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Taiwan, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Indonesia, Philippines, Japan, and Bangladesh along with two representatives from the Vatican joined in the visit.

The Asian bishops, religious and social leaders conclude their visit by keeping a universal message of love and solidarity to the migrants around the world.

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