Estoy en el que llamamos «Hospital en la Colina» de Médicos Sin Fronteras (MSF) en Bangladesh. Desde aquí, desde este cerro en Bazar, se divisa parte del mayor campo de refugiados del mundo. Bazar, un destino turístico de playas kilométricas en el sureste del país, alberga hoy un millón de refugiados rohingyas.

A pesar de haber estado dos años trabajando en este lugar, me sigue sorprendiendo su enorme escala. Es un caos organizado, una mezcla de precarias cabañas de bambú y plástico construidas con la misma rapidez con la que se taló el bosque. Una apariencia de orden jalonada de caminos y desagües que, como cicatrices, recorren las cimas y las laderas de las colinas, todo ello contenido dentro de un kilómetro tras otro de vallas de alambre de espino.…  Seguir leyendo »

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina jointly inaugurate a major road named after former Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Mujibur Rahman during an agreement signing ceremony in New Delhi on April 8, 2017. us-india-bangladesh-trade-gsp

The U.S. Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) program, launched in 1975, was designed to promote economic development and diversification among developing countries by encouraging their exports to the United States. Under the GSP, eligible products enter duty-free. As of January 2021, 119 developing countries were beneficiaries of the program.

Bangladesh and India are not current beneficiaries of the U.S. GSP. Although members of the program since 1985 and 1975, respectively, Bangladesh was denied access in 2013 and India in 2019. The United States should consider restoring GSP status for both countries for its own benefit as much as theirs.

India is a critical, long-term partner for the United States.…  Seguir leyendo »

Rohingya refugee children crowd a food distribution center in Balukhali refugee camp near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, in 2018. (Manish Swarup/AP)

When Bangladesh started relocating Rohingya refugees from Myanmar to its remote island of Bhasan Char in December, I met Saiful, a 10-year-old boy with an amputated leg. Saiful’s mother hoped he would one day become a doctor and offered an upbeat quote from him: “Now I can walk freely and even play.” It seemed to be that the Rohingya were headed for freedom and betterment in their new life on the island.

Just five months later, Saiful is dead. The authorities have not issued a death certificate for him. The cause of his death is unknown to his mother, save that his eyes turned yellow and his body became bloated.…  Seguir leyendo »

Los beneficios de emprender desde la base

En su 50 aniversario, Bangladés tiene mucho que celebrar. Su progreso en términos de desarrollo humano ha sido excepcional en comparación con sus vecinos del sudeste asiático. Su crecimiento económico sostenido ha reducido la extrema pobreza, no en menor medida porque la introducción de teléfonos móviles en la base social hizo posible la modernización de economías de pueblos previamente no interconectados. Más aún, Bangladés se ha vuelto más resiliente a desastres naturales como ciclones e inundaciones, y ha mejorado la capacidad del estado de gestionar las crisis.

El círculo virtuoso de desarrollo con apoyo tecnológico que ha experimentado este país deriva de décadas de una colaboración sostenida entre el estado y organizaciones sin ánimo de lucro (ONG), combinada con un énfasis sobre iniciativas en la base social para empoderar a mujeres emprendedoras.…  Seguir leyendo »

Pakistani people receive a dose of the Chinese-made Sinopharm coronavirus vaccine in Islamabad on Thursday. (Sohail Shahzad/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

The current coronavirus wave in India, with case rates topping 4,500 in a day, threatens to spill over into the neighboring countries of Pakistan and Bangladesh. As in India, those countries’ pandemic response is complicated by a low rate of compliance with public health orders intended to control the pandemic, including wearing masks and staying home under lockdown. And Pakistani citizens are wary of being vaccinated because of the CIA-run fake vaccination campaign purportedly against hepatitis B in the early 2010s — although, in fact, it was collecting DNA evidence to help locate al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

Once the CIA’s campaign was exposed, vaccination rates of all kinds dropped in Pakistan.…  Seguir leyendo »

Protección de los niños trabajadores durante la pandemia

Ya se puso en evidencia que el impacto de la pandemia COVID-19 será desigual, y que los países más pobres serán los que se llevaran la peor parte de las consecuencias. Esto incluye a los 1,2 millones de niños de Bangladesh que se dedican a las formas más duras de trabajo infantil. En tiempos tan inciertos, estos niños, y millones de otros en otros lugares, se encuentran aún más vulnerables al trabajo explotador y peligroso.

La razón es simple. Cuando los principales puntos de venta al por menor a nivel mundial rescindieron sus pedidos debido a recortes relacionados con los confinamientos, la producción de moda de bajo costo en gran parte del mundo se paralizó, dejando a muchos trabajadores del sector textil en el Sur Global sin ingresos.…  Seguir leyendo »

Flooding in a Rohingya refugee camp in Cox's Bazar on Thursday as a result of Cyclone Amphan. (Mayyu Ali)

Cox’s Bazar — In what is often described as the world’s largest refugee settlement, Rohingya refugees who have fled genocide in Myanmar are enduring one disaster after another.

On March 24, Bangladesh confirmed the first covid-19 case in the city of Cox’s Bazar. Since then, the government imposed a lockdown in the area, including for the camps where more than 1 million Rohingya refugees — myself included — are surviving. On May 14, Bangladesh reported the first two confirmed cases within the camps itself — a Rohingya refugee and a local Bangladeshi person.

The nightmare of what we and the world have feared for months had finally arrived at our doorsteps — and it couldn’t have come at a worse time.…  Seguir leyendo »

An empty garment factory during a government-imposed lockdown in Bangladesh. (Munir Uz Zaman/Afp Via Getty Images)

Bangladesh’s ready-made garment manufacturers are struggling to survive. Seven years after the Rana Plaza collapse, garment business owners wonder whether their new, gleaming factories will ever start their machines again. Margins were already dipping, and pressure on new compliance regulations already made it extremely difficult for all the manufacturers. The labor safety discourse revolved around the suction piping arrangements, water supply, and fire protection in factories. Many global brands source their labor from Bangladesh, including Walmart, H&M, Gap, Target, and Marks & Spencer, just to name a few. Bangladesh is second only to China in terms of exporting ready-made goods.

But covid-19 has put a different spin on things.…  Seguir leyendo »

First genocide, now the coronavirus: Will we finally protect the Rohingya?

The coronavirus has unleashed so many problems around the world that it’s almost impossible to keep track of them all. Even so, it’s worth taking a moment to consider the situation facing one of the planet’s most vulnerable groups. They’ve been persecuted, maligned and terrorized — and now they’re preparing to confront the virus with minimal protection.

In the summer and fall of 2017, the Myanmar military launched a campaign of terror against the ethnic group known as the Rohingya, driving some 700,000 of them across the border into neighboring Bangladesh. Myanmar’s predominantly Buddhist ruling elite has long discriminated against the Muslim Rohingya, treating them as a nefarious alien presence in the country’s midst even though most have lived there for generations.…  Seguir leyendo »

South Asia Turn to Illiberal Democracy

The return of the Rajapaksa brothers to power in Sri Lanka drew delighted cheers from their Buddhist nationalist supporters this weekend. But it should bring a shudder of alarm from those concerned for the island's future.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the nation's wartime defence chief, emerged as a comfortable winner on Sunday after a presidential poll on Saturday marked by deep ethnic divisions - signaling a likely return to the autocratic style favored by his brother Mahinda Rajapaksa, who served as president from 2005 to 2015.

More importantly, the result fits a broader and more alarming trend: the rise of illiberal democracy in South Asia as Sri Lanka joins India and Bangladesh in particular in backing nationalist strongman leaders with scant concern for the niceties of constitutional rule.…  Seguir leyendo »

Keeping the Internet free from incitement to violence, hate speech and child pornography is a priority around the world. It is particularly important in countries that have seen rapid and immense growth in Internet usage. Unfortunately, all too often, countries adopt laws and policies that appear to target online evils, but instead punish people who criticize the government or its leaders.

This is the case in Bangladesh, where more than half the population is now online, up from under 15 percent five years ago — and where the space for free speech has shrunk at an alarming rate in the process.…  Seguir leyendo »

Bangladesh is once again calling for the establishment of "safe zones" for the Rohingya in Myanmar so that it can begin resettling some of the 1 million or so refugees in its care around the district of Cox's Bazar . This is not the first time the government in Dhaka has pushed for this. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina pressed Myanmar on the issue before the United Nations General Assembly in September 2017.

Now, Bangladesh's new foreign minister, Abulkalam Abdul Momen, has started lobbying Russia, China and India, as well as the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, to try to use their influence to persuade Myanmar to establish safe zones within its territory.…  Seguir leyendo »

Sheikh Hasina Illustration by Greg Groesch/The Washington Times

When Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was elected in 2009, she promised to reduce poverty, stimulate growth and propel her then-impoverished nation into the digital age. Over the last decade, she has done exactly that.

Per capita income has nearly tripled. Instances of extreme poverty have been halved. Women are far better educated, safer and more prosperous than their mothers. No wonder the prime minister and her Awami League party were overwhelmingly re-elected in December for a third consecutive term.

Some in the international media found it hard to believe that Bangladeshi voters could back one party so thoroughly. A closer look at the polls and how much life has improved in Bangladesh over the last 10 years removes that doubt.…  Seguir leyendo »

Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina flashes the victory symbol after casting her vote in Dhaka on December 30, 2018.

On December 30, Bangladesh's government was reelected in a landslide. According to the country's Election Commission, the Awami League (AL)-led ruling coalition won an astounding 288 out of the 300 parliamentary seats up for grabs. The political opposition has understandably alleged massive rigging, rejected the results, and called for new elections.

The disputed election outcome could plunge Bangladeshi politics, already poisoned by bitter and often violently expressed partisanship, into a new and dangerous era.

The opposition has every reason to be furious. For several years, the AL has engaged in a systematic campaign to undercut the opposition, if not dismantle it altogether.…  Seguir leyendo »

Election posters on a street in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on Wednesday. After being in power for a decade, the Awami League faces serious anti-incumbent feelings. Credit Munir Uz Zaman/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Elections in Bangladesh are never tame. There were boycotts during the last parliamentary election in 2014, and voting-day violence killed some 20 people. The one before that, in December 2008, was notable for having taken place at all: Originally scheduled for January 2007, it was postponed after a military-backed coup and street battles that shut down the country.

This year again, in the lead-up to the next parliamentary election on Sunday, violent skirmishes have broken out between supporters of the two main camps, the incumbent Awami League and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (B.N.P.). Fatalities remain lower so far than in the past, but the stakes of this race are no less high: At bottom, this election is a contest between two forms of authoritarianism — only one is more dangerous than the other.…  Seguir leyendo »

This woman in a refugee camp in Bangladesh is among those raped and impregnated by soldiers. After she gave birth to a son, her husband blamed her for the rape and abandoned her. Credit Wong Maye-E/Associated Press

No one knows how many Rohingya became pregnant as a result of rape by the Myanmar military. No one knows how many babies were born to survivors of sexual violence living among the 750,000 Rohingya in camps in Bangladesh.

The systematic sexual violence against the Rohingya reminded many in Bangladesh of their own painful history: During Bangladesh’s war of independence in 1971, the Pakistani military and local collaborators killed about 300,000 civilians and raped and tortured as many as 400,000 women and girls.

After the fighting ended in late 1971, reports abounded of rape survivors who, shunned by their own communities, had killed themselves or their newborn babies, or died from attempts to self-induce an abortion.…  Seguir leyendo »

Bangladeshi photographer Shahidul Alam was detained by plainclothes police at his home on Aug. 5 after giving an interview to Al Jazeera about student demonstrations. (AFP/Getty Images

The arrest in Bangladesh of the celebrated photojournalist Shahidul Alam is personal for me. He’s been a friend for over 20 years through our work on media and South Asia. As in Bangladesh, the nascent democracy in my own country, Pakistan, is marred by censorship, illegal detentions and extrajudicial killings.

Our common problems notwithstanding, the dominant narratives of Bangladesh, Pakistan and India are hostile to each other and suspicious of those who don’t follow the official script.

Shahidul, who is still in jail, has done more to promote a positive image of Bangladesh and counter stereotypes than those who ordered him to be arrested and are now charging him with ruining the country’s image through his social media posts.…  Seguir leyendo »

Munir Uz Zaman/AFP/Getty Images Photojournalist Shahidul Alam arriving for a court appearance following his arrest after a student protest, Dhaka, August 6, 2018

The renowned photojournalist Shahidul Alam is supposed to be in New York on October 28 to receive a humanitarian award from the Lucie Foundation, which honors photographers every year. Alam is a worthy recipient. His career goes back to the mid-1980s when he returned from Britain to his native Bangladesh with a doctorate in chemistry and, noticing his home in political turmoil, decided to record the democratic struggle to end General Hussain Muhammad Ershad’s autocratic rule with a camera.

Through his lens, he went on to capture the human drama around him—children growing up in poverty but displaying joy and resilience across the country; human rights defenders fighting for minorities, including the Chakmas and the stateless Rohingyas being driven out of Myanmar; and the spirit of Bangladeshi lives confronting great adversities—working in brick kilns, in garment factories, in makeshift ship-breaking facilities along the coast.…  Seguir leyendo »

¿Cerca de una limpieza étnica en la India?

Setenta y un años después de la partición de la India, y 47 años después de que lo que antes era Pakistán Oriental se convirtiera en Bangladesh, uno de los legados de la caótica división del subcontinente vuelve a cernirse sobre el país. La crisis que se desarrolla en relación con la publicación, en el estado indio de Assam, de un “registro nacional de ciudadanos” (NRC, por la sigla en inglés) pone en duda la ciudadanía (y el futuro) de unos cuatro millones de personas y amenaza con debilitar la paz en la región.

Cuando en 1947 los británicos se fueron de la India, hicieron una partición basada en la religión, por la que con las provincias de mayoría musulmana en el oeste y el este de la India se creó un estado musulmán, Pakistán.…  Seguir leyendo »

Students block a road on Aug. 5 to protest recent traffic accidents that killed a boy and a girl in Dhaka, Bangladesh. (Mohammad Ponir Hossain/Reuters)

Last month, a speeding bus lost control and killed two teenagers in Dhaka, and thousands of schoolchildren protested on the city’s streets, demanding safer roads.

University students soon joined the protests, and the police then cracked down on demonstrators. The students have since returned to school. But academics, journalists and analysts are calling this an unprecedented movement. Here is what you need to know:

On July 29, two buses raced across an overpass to pick up passengers. One bus ran over students waiting for transportation after school. Such accidents occur often in Bangladesh, where private bus companies operate unfit vehicles driven by underage and unlicensed drivers.…  Seguir leyendo »