Rohingya mark Eid, one year after Myanmar crisis began

August 22, 2018

Nearly one million Rohingya Muslims marked Eid al-Adha on Wednesday in the world’s largest refugee camp, almost a year to the day since a brutal military crackdown drove the persecuted minority from Myanmar in huge numbers.

Prayers were offered in makeshift mosques across southern Bangladesh to celebrate the Islamic festival of sacrifice as cows were slaughtered in muddy fields across the sprawling camps.

In Kutupalong, a gigantic hill settlement crammed with hundreds of thousands of refugees, a muezzin called the faithful to pray as children played on a wooden carousel and ran about in dirt alleyways in new clothes for the special day.

For many refugees, this Eid al-Adha is the first since their violent expulsion from western Myanmar a year ago in a campaign of orchestrated violence likened by US and UN officials to ethnic cleansing.

Myanmar’s military, backed by armed Buddhist militias, began sweeping through Rohingya villages in August 2017 just days before Eid celebrations got underway.

Memories of his torched homeland, and misery in Bangladesh, overshadowed festivities for 19-year-old Mohammad Issa, one of the 700,000 Rohingya who fled the bloody purge.

“In Myanmar we had money, we had cattle and land. Eid was happier there,” he told AFP near a row of reeking pit latrines in Jamtoli camp, a new settlement for recently-arrived refugees.

– Sombre celebrations –

Muslims traditionally sacrifice animals for the three-day Eid al-Adha feast, a tribute to the prophet Abraham slaughtering a lamb after God spared Ishmael, his son.

Those able to make the sacrifice known as qurbani will consume some of the meat and give the rest to the poor unable to buy food.

In Cox’s Bazar near the Bangladesh-Myanmar border, where squalid camps host generations of Rohingya refugees expelled from western Myanmar, there is much need, and little to go around.

Cows, goats and sheep flooded local markets catering to the displaced Muslims in the lead up to Eid.

Some better-off families pooled whatever cash they could muster to make the Islamic sacrifice, buying shares in a cow or goat.

But for most refugees –- barred from legally working, and surviving hand to mouth on charity –- such luxuries are wildly beyond their means.

The sight of animals being fattened for slaughter taunted Mohammad Amin, a teenager who remembered the home-cooked meat delicacies and special gifts reserved for the holiest Islamic festivity back home.

“But here, we don’t have any money to slaughter cows or buy new clothes,” the downcast 15-year-old told AFP.

The influx of refugees delivered a bumper year for Bangladeshi livestock trader Aktar Hussain and others like him, who counted wads of cash at a busy cattle market market adjacent to the camps.

“This has been my best year yet,” he told AFP, as prospective Rohingya buyers examined a sturdy brown cow in a muddy clearing.

“Last year, I sold 15 cows at Eid. This year, I’ve already sold 50.”

The festival differs from Eid al-Fitr, the other major festival in the Islamic calendar, which was celebrated in June in Muslim-majority Bangladesh after the fasting month of Ramadan.