This article titled “Desperate plight of Rohingya refugees hits home in Bradford” was written by Josh Halliday North of England correspondent, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 26th December 2017 16.30 Asia/Kolkata
It took the best part of 36 hours to travel from his Victorian terrace home in Bradford to the ever-growing refugee camp in southern Bangladesh. But of the 5,000 mile trip it was the final few hundred metres that were the hardest.
“When I was 500 metres from my parents home I was crying loudly,” said Deen Mohammed Noori. The 32-year-old had been reunited with his parents after nine years; their address is printed in black ink on official UN records: Kutupalong, Block D, Shed 0026.
Noori’s parents are among hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees living in what has rapidly become the world’s largest refugee camp, with nearly 1 million stateless people living in makeshift settlements on the edge of Kutupalong, near Cox’s Bazar.
For Noori, the bamboo and tarpaulin huts are a reminder of the life he was fortunate enough to escape in 2010, when he was among 199 Rohingya refugees who settled in Bradford under the International Organisation for Migration’s gateway protection programme.
The Bradford Rohingyas, the biggest community of the ethnic group in Europe, have watched with increasing horror as more than 670,000 of their ethnic group – often described as the “world’s most persecuted people” – have fled the destruction of their villages in Myanmar’s Rakhine state.
Noori now works as a taxi driver in Bradford while running the Arakan Rohingya Organisation UK from his family home in the centre of the city, where he lives with his wife and children. He returned from his four-week trip to Kutupalong on 30 November with graphic horror stories and a renewed determination to ask the British government for sanctuary for his elderly relatives.
“My mum didn’t want me to come back here. I wanted to bring my parents with me. Why can’t I take them with with me to the country where I live? It was a sad moment for me when I was coming back to the airport,” he said. “Every time we go out … we feel sad all the time. We feel disappointed because my parents are not here.”
The city council has given the Rohingya community a small office in a community centre in the Laisterdyke neighbourhood of east Bradford, where they can meet and organise.
In October, Nijam Uddin Mohammed, general secretary of the British Rohingya Community UK, and nine others took aid to desperate families in Kutupalong, donating food, firewood and medicine from the people of Bradford. Although the vast majority of Rohingya refugees are Muslim, the donations came from every faith and none, said Mohammed. “Donations came from all over Bradford regardless of faith. We’ve been very surprised: the mosques, churches, temples – everyone has come out to help us.”
Nur Huda, chairman of the British Rohingya Community UK, took his 11-year-old daughter, Nurun Nessa Sumai, on the 5,000-mile journey to the country where they had lived in exile until 2008, when they were among the first Rohingya refugees to be welcomed to Bradford under its City of Sanctuary scheme.
Sumai, who started secondary school in September at Bradford’s Feversham college for girls, said she had returned to Yorkshire with a new appreciation for the most basic things in life. “Here [children] take everything for granted, and they [children in Kutupalong] are just hoping they have parents, proper education, nice food, nice clothes and everything, good toys to play with, find friends and all the things we take for granted today,” she said.
“We get water, they don’t have that much clean water. They don’t have anything – they have to sleep on the streets. They never know if someone’s going to trip over them or anything. They’re just lying there hoping that something good will happen to them, but they don’t have much hope now.”
Of all the distressing sights and stories in Kutupalong, Mohammed said, it was the plight of the children that raised the greatest alarm. More than 600,000 Rohingya children are at risk in both Myanmar and Bangladesh, according to Unicef, which estimates that almost 60% of the nearly 1 million people to have fled the violence are children – and 21% of those under five are malnurished.
Mohammed, who grew up in Kutupalong, said he feared the lack of education was the greatest threat to the future of his people. Fewer than 1% of 720,000 children classed as “in need” are currently receiving any form of education, according to Unicef.
“Nearly 1 million people, their children are without education. What are these children’s destinations going to be?
“Sometimes you kill people with weapons. This time, if children are away from education, then my Rohingya nation will be completely disappeared slowly,” he said.
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