From Hospitality to Hostility towards the Rohingyas: Placemaking of Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh

Authors: Sharif Wahab*, Indiana University Bloomington
Topics: Migration, Urban Geography, Asia
Keywords: Placemaking, Rohingya, Bangladesh, camp, mobility, surveillance
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/10/2021
Start / End Time: 3:05 PM / 4:20 PM
Room: Virtual 35
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

This paper argues that the August 2017 influx of the Rohingyas to Cox’s Bazar exposes the contestation of place between Bangladesh state’s imagined coherence of a tourist site and the reality of everyday lives of people (citizens, non-citizens, and aid workers). The Rohingyas have historically been part of Cox’s Bazar as a place. But the recent “ethnic cleansing” by the Myanmar Army drew global attention due to the mass movement of an alarming number of people (more than 700,000) within a short time. I posit that the declaration of opening border by Bangladesh state was not from humanitarian reason, instead from its geopolitical considerations. Consequently, the formation of the camps, the flood of humanitarian aid workers, and resources transformed the shape and living experience of the region. As a non-signatory of the UNHCR Refugee Convention, Rohingya people’s existence in Bangladesh is continuously negotiated in terms of their access to basic needs, mobility, and representation. While the repatriation diplomacy with Myanmar is at a stalemate situation, Bangladesh has reached the limit of its humanitarian rhetoric. Therefore, the state is moving towards enforcing social, political, and technical mechanisms to confine the “de-facto refugees.” The restrictions against using mobile phones by the Rohingyas, relocation plan for the refugees at a distant island, and the declaration of putting barbed wire around the camp are manifestations of state effort to return to the imagined coherence in Cox’s Bazar. All these efforts, however, will create more contestations and fragmented experiences over this place.

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