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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

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

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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.

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Rohingya Refugees in Bangladesh

In 1991, some 250,000 refugees from Myanmar's Northern Rakhine state fled by boat and on foot to neighbouring Bangladesh, where they were sheltered in 20 camps in the Cox's Bazar district. While the majority of these refugees eventually returned home, some 20,500 people – mostly Rohingya, a Muslim minority ethnic group – remain in two of the original camps.

Conditions in these camps are below standard, with many refugees living in overcrowded shelters in desperate need of repair. Frequent heavy rains inundate the area, further damaging shelters and spreading disease. Harassment and discrimination add to the plight of the Rohingya refugees, the majority of whom say that they do not want to return home until there is peace and democracy in Myanmar.

The UNHCR has expanded its routine protection monitoring in Cox's Bazar to address the problems of sexual and gender-based violence as well as trafficking of women and children. The UN refugee agency continues to work with governments, other UN agencies and non-governmental organisations to try and find a durable solution for the Rohingya refugees.

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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.

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