Home in a Rohingya Refugee Camp

Improvised mosque in a squatter refugee camp. Image by Doug Bock Clark. Bangladesh, 2017.

Improvised mosque in a squatter refugee camp. Image by Doug Bock Clark. Bangladesh, 2017.

It’s impossible not to think of the power of home in refugee camps. The tattered, squalid tent cities testify to the devastation of losing a home. But they also are a testament to the almost unquenchable human drive to create one.   

Because the Bangladesh government refuses to acknowledge the over 70,000 Rohingya who have spilled over the border since the Myanmar army began a brutal counter insurgency campaign in October 2016, the prexisting UN refugee camps, filled with victims of past violence, have been unable to assimilate the newcomers. So the fresh arrivals have begun to throw up tents on the outskirts of the official camps after authorities have kicked them of there, building refugee camps from refugee camps.

A recent walk through one of the squatter camps revealed scores of men terracing red clay hills with hoes, axing trees, and using the lumber to build tent frames, over which they stretched sheets of black plastic—some harvested from garbage bags.  In the middle of the rising tent city, I came across several Qurans stacked atop a wooden bench and orange tarp laid over the dirt like a carpet, for worshipers to pray on. A man told me it was their temporary mosque and then pointed to a pile of freshly felled trunks and said they planned to construct a formal house of worship soon. Wherever we live, I thought, we never give up on home.