• Text size Normal size text | Increase text size by 10% | Increase text size by 20% | Increase text size by 30%

Making a Splash: Refugee Boy Scouts in Bangladesh clean up at the beach

News Stories, 28 September 2010

© UNHCR/J.Sultan
Boy Scouts from two refugee camps near Cox's Bazar, Nayapara and Kutupalong, take part in the 25th annual International Coastal Cleanup at Labonee Beach.

COX'S BAZAR, Bangladesh, September 28 (UNHCR) Born and raised in Nayapara refugee camp, 17-year-old Ziaur Rahman doesn't get many chances to sunbathe at nearby Cox's Bazar, which claims to have the world's longest beach.

Still, he prizes the stretch of strand, and turned out recently with 30 fellow Boy Scouts from the camp and neighbouring Bangladeshi villages, as well as UNHCR staff, to pick up fast-food wrappers and keep the white sands of Labonee Beach in south-eastern Bangladesh pristine.

"The beach in Cox's Bazar receives thousands of visitors each day," Ziaur said, taking a pause from stuffing rubbish into his white plastic bag despite a sporadic drizzle. "If the beach is not clean, visitors will stop coming. But if everyone puts in an effort to keep the beach clean, it will attract many more visitors in the future."

Bangladesh's participation in the 25th International Coastal Cleanup last weekend also marked an unusual opportunity for the Rohingya refugee Boy Scouts to spend a day outside the two camps south of Cox's Bazar, home to 28,500 refugees, many of whom left Myanmar 19 years ago, others of whom were born in the camp.

Not only was Ziaur proud to join the beach clean-up, "I was very happy to get to know fellow Scouts from local communities," he said with a warm smile.

The Scouts from Nayapara and Kutupulong refugee camps, wearing the traditional khaki shirt, scarf and pendant, worked side-by-side with about 500 volunteers in the annual event organized by the Ocean Conservancy, which mobilizes people to clean beaches and waterways around the world. Locally, the event was organized by Kewkradong, a Bangladeshi NGO which specializes in outdoor expeditions, adventure tourism and environmental advocacy.

This is the fifth year this event has been held at Labonee Beach in Cox's Bazar, which receives thousands or even tens of thousands of visitors a day, depending on the season.

Creating a mixed Scout troop for both Bangladeshi boys and Rohingya refugee boys was the brainchild of Feroz Salah Uddin, the Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner, the main agency within the Bangladeshi government working with UNHCR to help address one of the world's longest running refugee situations.

"The Boy Scout movement represents some of the best traditions of self-empowerment and service to one's community and Mr. Salah Uddin has done a remarkable job on both accounts," said Craig Sanders, UNHCR's representative in Bangladesh. "The participation of Boy Scouts in the beach clean-up not only gives back to Bangladesh, but also goes a long way towards building a spirit of cooperation and understanding among the refugees and host communities."

Ziaur, a Scout for about a year now, says the girls in his camp are envious of his opportunities and are agitating for a troop of their own. Their voices have been heard and they may not have long to wait.

"While the Boy Scout troop is just a first step, our real success will be when we start the Girl Guides programme in the refugee camps," said G.M. Khan, programme manager for TAI, a local organization providing education and community services in the two camps.

By Ikteruddin Bayzid In Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh




UNHCR country pages

22nd World Scout Jamboree

The 22nd World Scout Jamboree was held in Rinkaby, Sweden in 2011 between July 27 and August 8 (external link).

UNHCR and the World Organization of the Scout Movement

Memorandum of Understanding between UNHCR and the World Organization of the Scout Movement, 3 August 1995

do 1 thing

do 1 thing

1 refugee without hope is too many. Every day, millions of refugees face murder, rape and terror. We believe even 1 is too many.

Returnees in Myanmar

During the early 1990s, more than 250,000 Rohingya Muslims fled across the border into Bangladesh, citing human rights abuses by Myanmar's military government. In exile, refugees received shelter and assistance in 20 camps in the Cox's Bazaar region of Bangladesh. More than 230,000 of the Rohingya Muslims have returned since 1992, but about 22,000 still live in camps in Bangladesh. To promote stability in returnee communities in Myanmar and to help this group of re-integrate into their country, UNHCR and its partner agencies provide monitors to insure the protection and safety of the returnees as well as vocational training, income generation schemes, adult literacy programs and primary education.

Returnees in Myanmar

Statelessness in Bangladesh: The Biharis

Some 240,000 Urdu-speaking Biharis spent decades living in appalling conditions in squalid settlements in Bangladesh. They were not recognized as citizens and had little hope of a normal life.

The plight of the Biharis, whose ancestors moved to Bangladesh from India following the 1947 partition of the subcontinent, stems from the separation of Bangladesh from Pakistan in 1971. While many Bihari Urdu speakers subsequently relocated to Pakistan, up to 300,000 remained in Bangladesh. For many years, their legal rights as citizens were not recognized. Many lived in camps and open settlements and were, as a consequence, often denied access to education and had difficulty finding work.

In 2008, the High Court in Dhaka ruled that the Urdu speakers were nationals of Bangladesh. The government registered the adults as voters in time for the December 2008 general election and issued them with national ID cards.Today they remain a linguistic minority in need of better housing and employment opportunities.

There are an estimated 12 million stateless people in the world. Many are effectively trapped in legal limbo, often with limited enjoyment of human rights.

Statelessness in Bangladesh: The Biharis

Living Silence: Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh

"Living Silence" is a photographic exhibition of one of the world's most enduring refugee crises, by award-winning photographer Saiful Huq Omi.

Bangladesh has hosted refugees for over three decades. Today, 28,000 refugees from Myanmar known as the Rohingya - an ethnic, religious and linguistic minority people - are living in the two official refugee camps in the south-east of Bangladesh. Over half of them are children, many of whom have only ever experienced life in the camps. It is estimated that there are a further 200,000 Rohingya living outside the camps, unable to return to Myanmar where they fear persecution and exploitation.

Like refugees around the world, the Rohingya refugees are survivors. They are living in transience, waiting for the day they can go home in safety and in dignity. Until then, like any other people, they aspire to live a life free from violence and exploitation.

Together with other UN agencies and NGOs, UNHCR provides shelter, water, primary education and health care to refugees from Myanmar in the Nayapara and Kutupalong camps. UNHCR is also working with governments around the world to resettle some of the most vulnerable.

Living Silence: Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh

Jordan: Toy Distribution Play video

Jordan: Toy Distribution

The UK Pitt Rivers Museum and the UK Scouts and Guides Fellowship have collected toys from British school children to send to Syrian refugee children, based on their global partnership with UNHCR. The most recent shipment consisted of five boxes of toys that weighed more than 800 kilos.
Bangladesh: Rohingya Refugees Play video

Bangladesh: Rohingya Refugees

Living in limbo for years has pushed some Rohingyas to risk everything in search of a better life.
Bangladesh: A Life On HoldPlay video

Bangladesh: A Life On Hold

The story of Noor Jahan, a refugee from Myanmar. Noor Jahan fled from Myanmar in 1992 and found shelter in Bangladesh. Camp life has always been hard, but recent improvements have made her family's life a little easier.