Barely three weeks ago, it would have taken someone a little more than 10 minutes to reach Kutupalong camp from the main station in Ukhia. Today, traffic jams on the Cox's Bazar-Teknaf Highway, arising from the increasing number of relief trucks arriving to help out the Rohingyas, has changed the scenario. But despite the admirable support of Bangladeshis for the four lakh-plus Rohingyas who entered Bangladesh in the last one month, many new refugees are still living on just muri and cha.
Take for instance the case of brothers Abdul Aher and Nazim Ullah. They were both shot while running away from the Myanmar military. Today they are struggling to compete with others for relief.
The situation at the camps of Ukhia upazila suggest; that it is the stronger Rohingyas, who can run after trucks and wait in the heat for hours, who are getting a better share of the pie.
Abdul, who saw a bullet pierce through his foot and received treatment from Ukhia after his arrival, cannot wait to be able to run again.
“I don't like the fact that I have to rely on someone else for relief,” says Abdur. “I can walk but my foot hurts when I run or put extra pressure on it. Because of that, I am missing out on the food and aid that the trucks are providing here,” he explains.
His brother had it worse. Bullets scraped past 15-year-old Nazim Ullah's cheek and shoulder and knocked him unconscious. “We were late. We should have left before. After getting shot in the head, I lost consciousness. Later I was told that my mama picked me up and took me away from there,” narrates Nazim. “It still hurts as though there is some poison stuck in there,” he adds.
Considering the huge number of people who have taken refuge near the border, it is obvious that a constant supply of relief is required. However, it also seems that the government is yet to implement an approach that can ensure equal distribution of relief among the newly arrived.
The problems in the distribution system can easily be observed on the roadsides of the camp. Upon failing to find a proper distribution point, several volunteers from the trucks, many of whom can carry up to eight tons of relief, were seen throwing the goods to people waiting on the roadsides. Certain trucks actually threw mosquito nets and clothes while the truck was on the move.
In fact, such instances were so common last week that it compelled Border Guard Bangladesh officials to make frequent announcements, urging the relief trucks to park in empty fields instead of blocking the road.
Providing relief in such an arbitrary manner not only makes it difficult for those who are not strong enough to run behind the trucks, but also makes it impossible to differentiate between the Rohingyas who arrived recently and the refugees who have been living in these camps for years. It is obvious that the newly arrived Rohingyas need more help than the others. In addition, the older Rohingyas have an advantage in the sense that they know the roads better and as a result, they are aware of the places which are likely to receive the most amount of relief.
Mahbia Khatun, a septuagenarian from the Kutupalong camp, complains about the lack of relief. “I got some muri, but that was all. I can't run around behind trucks with men and children. I am really old. And even when they do provide relief within the camps, they distribute food in random tents. ” she says.
“Just yesterday, the tent opposite to mine got rice, but I did not. They went ahead because my tent is small and I was probably asleep,” she adds.
Mahbia arrived in Bangladesh with three children and a niece. When I met her, her son was looking for a doctor to treat his mother's feet. “We had to walk atop a lot of stones and my feet bled a lot in the process. It's not just me. All my family members are sick and vomiting regularly. More than clothes, we need water at the moment,” she adds.
And that's the other issue: the kind of relief that is being distributed. Most of the camps, and even the roads leading to the camps, are flooded with clothes that a large section of Rohingyas preferred not to take. This not only takes up unnecessary space at the camps, but also makes life difficult for the BGB officials, who are under pressure as it is, at the camps as they are forced to find a way to dispose of these clothes elsewhere.
A BGB official from Thaing Khali camp, recently made on a school's football field, explains the problem.
“They [Rohingyas] are throwing away the clothes and the mosquito nets they don't like. Now I have to make sure that these are either returned or dispatched. I asked a lot of donators to take these back, but even they have problems,” he says.
“I think the way the people of Bangladesh have stood up for them is great. I don't think any other country would have done the same. But we need more co-ordination at this point, or else it will only create more chaos,” he adds.
Mohammad Mainuddin, the Upazila Nirbahi Officer (UNO) of Ukhia, admits that the distribution system needs improvement.
“We have a control room in the upazila and there is one in Teknaf as well. There are seven distribution points in Ukhia and five in Teknaf. The police, the BGB, scouts and magistrates are all present to distribute the relief. We are trying to distribute the relief equally,” he says.
“We are targeting the Rohingyas who have just arrived. But of course, it is not a crime if the earlier ones come too. But it will be a crime if Bangladeshis stand in lines for relief. Because this is such a huge project, some gaps will remain. This is natural and will only be overcome gradually,” adds Mainuddin.
He urges the volunteers who are bringing in relief to follow a few steps in order to help improve distribution.
“Firstly, if you're bringing relief, please bring them in small trucks. The big trucks block the roads and are hard to place. Secondly, we don't need any more clothes. We suggest volunteers give clothes during the winter, when they will need it,” he says.
“Thirdly, bring lots of water. That is the need of the hour. Please go to the distribution points to give the relief. Randomly providing relief on the roads only creates problems,” he adds.
Furthermore he says that at this point in time, they need more volunteers. “Even if someone wants to keep their relief with us, we are not able to do so because we don't have enough volunteers for that process,” says Mainuddin.
In situations like these, there are bound to be lapses in the system. The government has promised to fill the gaps, and going by the recent activities, they probably will.
Stories of RAB officials helping a Rohingya retrieve his cows after the latter was cheated in Ukhia and others about how the BGB treated the incoming refugees with plenty of respect were narrated by the Rohingyas themselves, suggesting that the situation is heading in the right direction.
At the moment, it seems that the contributions from the public can be more effective if one follows the steps laid down by the government.
Do's and don'ts of providing relief
Do not send relief in big trucks.
Do not send clothes. They are being rejected.
Send warm clothes in winter.
Do not randomly stop on the roads and provide relief there.
Contact the control room and be aware of the government distribution routes.
The camps are in need of water. Water should be of the highest priority.
Follow Naimul Karim @naimonthefield