Atom Araullo Highlights the Milestones and Challenges of the Rohingya Crisis
The hills are dotted with corrugated roofing, tarpaulins, and bamboo. The streets and dirt roads are busy with men and women going about their chores. This is Kutupalong Camp, the temporary home to nearly a million Rohingya refugees.
National Goodwill Ambassador Atom Araullo surveys the world’s largest refugee camp on one of its many hills. This is the second time that he has been here since the height of the influx more than two years ago when Rohingya refugees started entering Bangladesh by the tens of thousands.
In 2017, the Rohingya people were forcibly driven out of their homes due to the mass executions, rape, and persecution. More than 700,000 people were a part of this exodus to Bangladesh, a country facing their own challenges. The world watched as the humanitarian crisis unfolded. To this day, those who fled are trying to regain hope and rebuild their lives far from the only home that they know.
“When it happened in 2017, the eyes of the world were on Myanmar and Bangladesh. More than 700,000 refugees crossed the border. It was a really crazy situation and it is really important to see how the world has responded and how the situation is unfolding,” Atom Araullo said upon laying eyes on the camp again.
“I’ve been here two years ago, 2017. There are have been massive changes most of them are quite encouraging. If you notice that there is a lot of greenery that is something new in the last couple of months. It’s just one of the many changes that makes life here more liveable,” Atom said.
BRICK BY BRICK
Atom sees engineers lined up on the road on his first day at the camp. They were slowly digging and replacing rocks along gutters and side streets under the hot sun. “They are strengthening the soil by the roads,” a humanitarian aid worker translates for Atom.
Community workers and refugees themselves toil to clean out the side of the roads so that it is free of debris that can block drainage. They get a small allowance for the work.
“It is hard work, but we are doing it for the community,” one of the refugees mentioned with a smile. Kutupalong camp is at the mercy of weather patterns. The temperature in Kutupalong camp can reach a scorching 40 degrees during summer. It can get sweltering inside the shelters. While the monsoon season often brings mudslides and diseases making the Rohingya people more vulnerable.
Kutupalong camp sits on a hill, parts of which are on softer soil making sections of the camp prone to landslides during the monsoon season. Trees were cut down for shelter and firewood for cooking. Families occupy different areas each at risk by some natural disaster. Thousands of families living in improvised shelters perched on barren hills are risk of having their homes washed away. For those living in low-lying areas, they face the possibility of having their homes being flooded.
Engineers must create stronger foundations in order to safeguard families at risk. Workers build canals and clean the drains in order to redirect rain water. Humanitarian organizations including UNHCR help save the lives of Rohingya refugees especially during monsoon season by providing them with shelter kits, fortifying shelters, and relocating persons-of-concern to higher ground. All this is to ensure that the Rohingya families will not lose everything that they built in Bangladesh.
“This part of the camp is the most secure among other camps. With time it has changed a lot, the situation is better than before,” said Moktar Amid, one of the elected community leaders in Kutupalong camp.
AS EASY AS 1, 2, 3
More than half of the Rohingya refugees are children. They were torn from their homes and have seen unspeakable acts of violence at such an early age. There seems to be no trace of the trauma that the Rohingya people lived through in one of the temporary learning centers in the camp. The walls are lined with bright visual aids. The kids are often curious about visitors like Atom who teach the children to speak a few words in Filipino. Rohingya children are eager learners mimicking every word they are taught.
“It’s my interaction with kids that struck me the most. Most of the ones here are below 15-years-old. Kids in that type of environment are very eager to learn. Even if there are challenges in giving the necessary education to the students, at least we can see that they are moving forward. They are learning English and a bit of math,” Atom shares.
While the situation has steadily improved, there is still a lot that can be done to provide the children with better education. “55% of refugees here are kids, children, and a lot of them, unfortunately, don’t have proper education and this [classes in temporary learning centers] is something that can provide some help but more must be done,” Atom adds.
ASSESSING THE CURRENT NEEDS
In the past two years, the thought of the future scares the Rohingya refugees. This much is understandable. Driven out of their homes and carrying the scars of persecution, the Rohingya people now face challenges in a foreign land.
“I cannot assess the magnitude of the needs, but there are a lot,” Atom said at the end of day. The needs of the people are often shared by elected community leaders like Moktar Amid. As one of the elected leaders, Moktar goes around camp in rain or in shine listening to the plights and issues of his fellow Rohingya members. He is entrusted by his fellow refugees to elevate their concerns to the proper fora.
According to Moktar, they need basic items such as food, mosquito nets, blankets and other core-relief items. There are regular distributions in the camp, but they are also hoping for certainty for long-term solutions. Aside from the basic needs, Rohingya refugees are waiting for the chance to go back home safely.
AN UPLIFTING TWO YEARS
Two years since the arrival of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh saw some improvements in their life in Kutupalong. “Walking around the camp today, we see a lot of development that makes life in the camps bearable. For example, they have roads, their homes are more organized. Refugees have formed committees, children are in temporary learning centers, environmental warriors have revived the greenery, and there are places where they can get psycho-social support. Nakakatuwa naman na kahit papaano-gumaganda naman yung buhay nila dito,” he said.
Yet at the same time, we must continue providing humanitarian aid for the most vulnerable families. “I think in some ways, the years that pass when things get a little bit more stable are also the most crucial ones,” Atom concludes.