Eid evokes mixed emotions for exiled Rohingya

Muslim refugees in Bangladeshi camps remember happier times back home in Myanmar
Eid evokes mixed emotions for exiled Rohingya

Rohingya children study the Quran at a mosque at Balukhali refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar on March 19. Away from their homes in Myanmar, the Eid festival brings little cheer for many Rohingya in camps. (Photo by Stephan Uttom/ucanews.com) 

Eid-ul-Fitr, one of Islam’s holiest feasts, slowly descends on Muslim-majority Bangladesh at the end of Ramadan.

Millions of holidaymakers were seen rushing to village homes to celebrate the feast with near and dear ones, while those remaining in cities were busy with last-minute shopping ahead of Eid on June 5.

Mukima Begum, 27, a Muslim mother of three, is doing nothing as the feast brings no cheer for her family. She is a Rohingya refugee from Maungdaw town in Myanmar’s Rakhine State who has been living in Kutupalong refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar since 2017.

Mukima and her children will observe Eid away from home and without her husband for the second consecutive year.

The woman joined the exodus of hundreds of thousands of her persecuted minority community to Bangladesh in early September 2017 to escape a deadly military crackdown in Rakhine.

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Her husband, Rashid Ahmed, 30, was shot by the military while fleeing, and Mukima gave birth to her third child after reaching Kutupalong camp, one of the world’s largest refugee settlements with about 400,000 Rohingya.

Mukima does not know what happened to her husband after he was shot.

“People say he is dead but I still hope he might be alive. During every Eid I cry a lot thinking about him. NGOs and generous people offer us food and clothes ahead of Eid, but the festival does not bring joy for us,” she told ucanews.com.

She gets emotional recalling memories of Eid back in Maungdaw, just on the other bank of the Naf River that separates Bangladesh and Myanmar.

“My farmer husband used to sell rice to buy new clothes for us all. I cooked good food and we enjoyed a meal together after Eid prayers. We also visited our relatives. Everything is gone now,” sighed Mukima.

Despite relative safety and peace in the camp, Mukima ponders if her family will ever be able to go back home as the plan for Rohingya repatriation to Myanmar is still in limbo.

“Eid at home and in exile are never the same and a sense of restlessness grips my mind. Will we ever go back home? Even if we return, will I get back my husband?” she asked.

A Rohingya Muslim heads to a mosque for Friday prayers at Balukhali refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar on March 16. (Photo by Stephan Uttom/ucanews.com)

 

Muhammad Aksar, 25, a Rohingya refugee in Balukhali camp, also came from Maungdaw in 2017 with his parents, wife, three children, a brother and two sisters. His elder brother went missing while fleeing to Bangladesh and the family has lost contact with him.

“I think my brother was killed, otherwise we could get in touch with him. Eid brings tears to our eyes as we have lost a dear family member like most families in this camp,” Aksar told ucanews.com.

Aksar becomes nostalgic over good memories of Eid at their home in Maungdaw.

“I feel sad recalling our Eid days at home when three brothers prayed together side by side with our father. Our relatives used to come home to celebrate the feast together. My youngest child was born in Bangladesh, so he will probably never know how joyful Eid was back home,” he said.

Mazharul Islam, a Muslim and head of the Rohingya Project at Catholic charity Caritas Chittagong operating among refugees in Cox’s Bazar, said Rohingya have little to celebrate in refugee camps.

“Rohingya get enough support to celebrate Eid but nothing can drive away their sadness at being forced into a foreign land. They yearn to return home and lament their family members and relatives lost in persecution. We can feel their pain but we cannot do much to bring back their cheers,” Islam told ucanews.com.

The government and aid groups have made efforts to help Rohingya celebrate Eid, said Muhammad Nikaruzzaman, chief government officer in Ukhiya subdistrict of Cox’s Bazar, which covers most of about 30 refugee camps in Bangladesh.

“Despite our best efforts, we cannot help Rohingya enough to make their Eid festival as joyful as it was back home. Many have lost their loved ones and they are away from home, so their Eid can be never like ours,” Nikaruzzaman, also a Muslim, told ucanews.com.

An ethnic minority living for centuries in Rakhine in western Myanmar, Rohingya Muslims have faced decades of persecution by successive military governments and local hard-line Buddhists.

Many in Buddhist-majority Myanmar consider the Rohingya recent illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and they were stripped off citizenship and made officially stateless by the 1982 citizenship law.

In recent decades, Rohingya have trickled into Bangladesh to escape persecution. Two deadly military crackdowns in 2016 and 2017, triggered by Rohingya insurgent attacks on Myanmar security forces, pulled the trigger for the largest Rohingya exodus to Bangladesh.

Since August 2017, about 723,000 Rohingya have crossed into Bangladesh to seek refuge, according to the United Nations refugee agency.

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