Rohingya sell and buy food products in a street market in the Kutupalong refugee camp, Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. Photo: AFP / Diego Cupolo / NurPhoto

Rohingya people have been suffering the impacts of discrimination, racial hatred and state violence for many decades, enduring both physical and mental abuses. We have been marginalized by the government of Myanmar, brutalized by the Myanmar Army, and oppressed by politicians in Rakhine state. First, our citizenship rights were stripped away starting in 1982, then our human rights were revoked step by step. 

We are not allowed to visit loved ones within our own country, where we are confined to our home towns like animals in an open-roofed cage that we are not free to leave. We are limited in our prospects for marriage. In short, we live like the living dead. When it becomes impossible to survive these conditions, some people have sought ways of escape. Some of us have reached foreign countries in our own underground ways. 

The refugee camps where many of us now live in Bangladesh feel like a jail. The camps are too crowded and noisy. People can’t breathe well; there are few trees and they even feel a lack of oxygen and fresh air. People are becoming irritable or even experiencing mental breakdowns. People face cancer, infections, viruses, diabetes, blood-pressure disorders, and mental illnesses that the camp health facilities cannot properly treat. It is very difficult to get permission and money to travel to a hospital for any kind of specialized treatment.

Simply put, life is just too difficult here in the camp. Days feel like months and weeks feel like years. Anyone living in the camp will tell you this. We are only trying to survive, but local people in our place of refuge have begun to see us as a threat. They may not understand how deeply thankful we are, how refugees all pray for the well-being of Bangladesh and its people who saved us. We are absolutely grateful to the authorities for continuing to shelter us in their country.

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We are living in the 21st century, the most advanced age of human civilization. But still, Rohingya are denied of our basic citizenship rights and all the other rights that should be upheld by the state. Our people need a proper way to learn about the world, and to see it for ourselves. When a community has been caged for two generations the people become short-sighted. We need a proper way to broaden our worldview.

As a 24-year-old Rohingya youth who has faced extreme hardship under Myanmar’s brutality, I am making a request to the international community, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and non-governmental organizations.

My story is like that of many others: My two brothers and I grew up without our father’s love, because the government took him away while I was still in my mother’s womb. Without stating any reason whatsoever, and without giving my father any chance to defend himself, they shot and killed him. My mom raised us herself while enduring constant challenges; she never gave up. She fought hard for us to become educated.

My brother and I were lucky to receive adequate education, but I live in fear for my Rohingya community and the diminishing prospects for our futures. Our people remain unaware that societies around the whole world have become empowered and well-developed.

Our food, clothes, shelter, and other materials have all been provided by UNHCR and international NGOs for years; we have lost our former self-reliance. This harsh camp life should be temporary, yet nothing is guaranteed for our future progress. It may take time, but perhaps after 10 or 20 years the Myanmar government will restore our rights and let us live freely in Arakan. But at that time, what will Rohingya do if we haven’t developed any human resource talent equipped with the rich variety of specialized knowledge needed for today’s world?

We need it all: education experts, businesspeople running companies in every sector, policymakers, technologists, and so on. Each of these is extremely important for a community, a minority people, to develop itself. But we still don’t have these types of human resources among Rohingya refugees.

To the international community, I beg you: please don’t think only about our short-term survival in this refugee camp. Please think of our futures. 

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Mohammad Arafat

Mohammad Arafat is a Rohingya social activist, peace builder, observer, singer, and actor currently residing in a refugee camp in Bangladesh.