The Future is Equal

Archives for August 28, 2019

Rohingya Refugees: working for peace, longing for home

Rohingya Refugee Anniversary

Two years on

There are close to a million Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh – more than 700,000 arrived following the violence of 25 August 2017. Some have been there since the 1990s. Overcrowding and poor infrastructure leaves people exposed to diseases, especially during monsoon season, and lack of legal status prevents refugees from working, studying, getting specialist medical help, or reporting crimes. Oxfam’s Senior Communications Officer in Cox’s Bazar, Mutasim Billah, explains that a ban on refugees working and the lack of education in the camps has left many refugees feeling as though they are treading water.

Two years is a long time for lives to be left on hold, and for many Rohingya this has been the case for even longer.

Though not without worries, some Rohingya refugees in the camps of Cox’s Bazar prefer sometimes to focus on the brighter side, to share examples of how they can help themselves and their communities. They were proud to tell us how they were managing, just getting on with life.

Neighbours in a crowded community

Down a crowded path between the camp shelters, Layla, 30, is a Rohingya woman who has become something of a local hero for coming up with a simple solution to an everyday problem in her neighbourhood. As it starts to rain, we huddle together by her front door in plastic chairs carried over by neighbours, under a cleverly woven awning made of palm fronds and empty rice sacks. I could have reached across the path with arms outstretched and touched both Layla’s front door and that of her opposite neighbour across the path.

Gesturing out the front door, my colleague pointed to the host community village at the end of the lane, not 10 meters from this dense grouping of camp shelters. Layla explained, “When we first arrived here, we did not have a good relationship with our neighbours from the host community. Every day there were quarrels! For us the biggest issue was water. We want water, the host community wants water.  Everyone would just go to the taps with as many bottles as they could carry and collect as much as they could.”

Water is scarce – so how to keep the peace?

“I didn’t want to see the women quarreling at the taps, so I suggested a system. At our water tap, each Rohingya family can take two pitchers of water first. Then, the host community can come and take whatever they need. If there is a bit more water, the Rohingya can come take another pitcher. I fill the containers myself for the families to come and collect.

“I manage it this way to keep the peace in the community. Sometimes people come and thank me, and I feel good. We are managing here like this!

“Neither of us is perfect, but we are very thankful to the local people for letting us stay here. We can be respectful of each other’s values and culture while we are here.

“But if you ask us, we all say we want our citizenship, our nationality. We want to go home.”

The changing role for men

We also spoke to Kabir, who belongs to one of Oxfam’s men’s gender group which meet to talk about changing gender roles, gender-based violence and the specific challenges men face living in the camps and how to cope. Oxfam has 25 men’s groups serving about 500 men across seven camps.

Kabir told us, “There was so much we didn’t know. We learned about our responsibility to our society, our home, and our women. Women work very hard at home!

“Most of the time we forget to acknowledge that. When we were in our own country, no one ever told us to try to understand women’s contributions. Every home had conflicts. Now that we understand this, we don’t have conflict anymore – I don’t fight with my wife.”

Providing personal fulfilment

These men’s groups are not only critical for addressing long term challenges around transforming gender roles in the camps, they also give men like Kabir a place to vent frustrations and build confidence.

He says, “I only had one year of school, I am definitely not an educated person. In the group, I learned to write my name. It feels good writing your own name! Maybe as an educated person, you wouldn’t understand, but this is a really fulfilling experience for me.”

Longing for home

Refugees like Layla and Kabir work hard to find ways to cope, but in many ways, their lives are in limbo.

“Now we are safe. We got a lot of support from the people living in this village. They helped us when there was no one. They provided many things,” says Kabir with deep gratitude.

“But in the future, I just want to go home. The camp is not a good place to live for your whole life. Here we are living on support. Mentally no one is happy as all of us want to go back. But for that, we need our nationality. It is our security. Without having that, we cannot go back.”

Oxfam is providing vital aid including clean water and food to Rohingya refugees. So far, we’ve helped more than a quarter of a million (266,000) people in Bangladesh and we provide ongoing humanitarian assistance to 100,000 Rohingya and Kaman Muslims confined to camps in Myanmar.

Oxfam G7 Verdict: Big Issues, Little Commitments


Oxfam held a climate change protest on the eve of the G7 summit in Biarritz, as world leaders put pressure on Brazil to do more to save the Amazon rainforest from wildfires.

French president Emmanuel Macron put inequality at the top of the agenda, but G7 leaders failed to make meaningful commitments to solve the crisis they have helped create, said Oxfam at the end of the Summit.

“Held in the beach town of Biarritz, France, the G7 Summit brought very few results, which will wash away with the next tide,” said Oxfam’s spokesperson, Robin Guittard. “After failing to get all seven leaders to commit to a comprehensive effort to address inequality, President Macron opted instead for a scattershot approach of piecemeal commitments that unfortunately do not add up to much.”

G7 leaders paid lip service to the dangers of inequality, but they have encouraged and enabled this unequal system to thrive by enabling the super-rich to control politics, by underfunding public services and foreign aid, by under-taxing corporations and wealth, and by fueling climate change and sexism. Perhaps it should be no surprise that at the end of the Summit, they made no commitments to reform the global tax system, invest in universal public services like education, healthcare, and social protection, or in foreign aid. The promised feminist agenda, with the ambition to follow on last year’s Canada presidency, delivered only on limited initiatives.

New business coalitions and corporate pledges pop up on a daily basis, as they did in Biarritz, but Oxfam warns that they are not the solution to the fight against inequality and climate change.

“Everyone must do their part to address inequality and climate change, but voluntary commitments by the private sector cannot replace necessary and urgent public policy and regulations,” said Guittard. “If corporations truly want to do their part, they can start by paying their fair share of taxes in the countries they do business, ensuring gender equality in their corporations, addressing CEO-worker pay ratios, and re-directing their political influence to address inequality and climate, not making it all worse.”

Even with the daily reminders that the climate crisis is upon us, the G7 did not commit to dramatically cut emissions. While France and the UK joined Germany to pledge to the Green Climate Fund, other G7 leaders missed their chance to step up to help poor countries who bear the burden and cost of climate change.

“Time is running out and the world cannot afford to squander moments like this. As the emergencies grow and the alarms ring, the public is increasingly active, showing up in millions on the streets, and in voting booth,” said Guittard. “Public pressure is growing, with young people leading the way. If leaders won’t act, they should step aside and let a new generation take charge.”

Oxfam New Zealand’s director of advocacy and campaigns, Dr Joanna Spratt, said government action on climate breakdown is critical, and New Zealand is falling behind on its responsibilities.

“Even the bare minimum contributions announced by the UK and France at the G7 summit outshine New Zealand’s commitments to the Green Climate Fund so far. New Zealand can no longer shirk its duty to replenish this critical source of funds to battle climate breakdown, and the government now must follow suit through a substantial increase in its contribution.”

At the Pacific Island Forum earlier this month, the group of Pacific Small Island Developing States issued a statement – the Tuvalu Declaration – calling on all states to take the “prompt, ambitious, and successful replenishment of the Green Climate Fund.”

“The government must listen to the voices of small island states in their calls to resource energy transition and adaptation to the climate crisis through the Green Climate Fund, instead of re-announcing money from our existing aid budget,” said Dr Spratt.

“Globally, we need to match our lofty words with actions and significantly increase our climate finance, within a rising aid budget. A good step for the New Zealand government will be a $30m replenishment of the Green Climate Fund, with a plan for increasing our contribution further.”