In Bangladesh, a Rohingya refugee reflects on the Myanmar coup

by Naimul Karim | @naimonthefield | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Tuesday, 2 February 2021 15:17 GMT

ARCHIVE PHOTO: An exhausted Rohingya refugee woman touches the shore after crossing the Bangladesh-Myanmar border by boat through the Bay of Bengal, in Shah Porir Dwip, Bangladesh September 11, 2017. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui

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"It's not that Aung San Suu Kyi's government has been friendly with us, but we thought things would be different ... After the military coup, we are once again clueless about our future."

By Naimul Karim

DHAKA, Feb 2 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Four years have passed since Nurul Islam, 31, arrived in a crowded refugee camp in Bangladesh - one of some 700,000 Rohingya Muslims driven out of Myanmar by a military crackdown against the minority group.

Islam, who works as a teacher in the refugee camps in Southeast Bangladesh, has never stopped hoping that one day he will return to his homeland, but said this week's military coup in Myanmar was a setback for his dreams of going back.

The military pledged to stick to its 2008 constitution and return power via a free and fair election but set no clear timeframe, and the junta detained elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi in a move criticized by the United Nations.

While Bangladesh's government on Monday stated that it expected Myanmar to abide by the repatriation agreement despite the military coup, Islam was not optimistic.

Here is how he sees the coup and what Rohingya refugees think it means for them:


After the (Nov. 8) national elections last year, we were hopeful that something good might happen.

It's not that Aung San Suu Kyi's government has been friendly with us, but we thought things would be different because there is international pressure.

Our hopes of returning home increased last month after the meeting between China, Myanmar and Bangladesh.

I read online that repatriation would start later this year. We were hopeful of getting our rights and going back home.

But after the military coup, we are once again clueless about our future. The little hope that some of us had was broken.

Right now, Myanmar will be busy dealing with internal problems. Our repatriation may not be a high priority and this might slow the process down and create more problems.

Many of us are also worried about our relatives who are living in Myanmar at the moment. What if the situation turns worse because of the military control?

My appeal to the authorities - be it the military or (Suu Kyi's) NLD (National League for Democracy), is please pay heed to us. You can't run a country by removing a community.

Just look at what happened to the country in the last four years. Its image has been spoilt worldwide, only because of the Rohingya crisis. It has hurt Myanmar's businesses as well.

Had we been given our rights, we could have done so much for the nation. We don't want the world to look at Myanmar as a nation that has failed. We hope that the authorities understand this and work on giving us our rights back.

It's not possible for us to live in these camps all our lives. Many of us saw our parents die here. We don't want to see our lives and our children's lives get destroyed as well. I want to see them grow up in a world where they have citizenship rights.

I want to thank Bangladesh for supporting us. But lately, because of COVID-19, jobs have been hard to come by in the camps.

I earn about 8,000 takas ($100) a month and even with food rations, that's not enough to support my family of 17. Back in Myanmar, I used to sell newspapers and my father worked as a farmer. We lived comfortably on our own land.

The situation is not ideal, but I really do hope that things change. And I still dream that one day my family can go back to our land and die there in peace.

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(Reporting by Naimul Karim @Naimonthefield; Editing by Helen Popper.  Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit