Salvador: The two faces of Cox’s Bazar

BANGLADESH. Housing units in the Kutupalong Camp.
BANGLADESH. Housing units in the Kutupalong Camp.

LESS than an hour’s plane ride from Dhaka, the capital city of Bangladesh, is Cox’s Bazar. It’s located on southeast coast, along the Bay of Bengal, and is part of the Chittagong Division. It used to be known as Palonki and was renamed Cox’s Bazar after Captain Hiram Cox, an officer of the British East India Company.

Cox was appointed superintendent of the area and took charge in the rehabilitation and settlement of the Arakanese refugees, and ethnic group from Myanmar, in the area.

The sand and sea

The beach is Cox’s Bazar’s main attraction. With a 120-kilometer stretch of shoreline, it ranks as the third longest beach in the world after Praia do Cassino Beach in Brazil (241.4 kilometers), and the Ninety Mile Beach in Australia (144.8 kilometers).

The largest concentration of hotels is at the town center, which is close to the airport and near beaches of Laboni and Kolatoli. A scenic walk southward along the seafront (if you even dareto), will take you to the Humchari Beach and Inani Beach. To give you an idea, Inani Beach is 28 kilometers from the airport and a 54-minute drive.

After a dip in the Bay of Bengal and getting sun kissed, an exploration of Cox’s Bazar’s other attractions can be exciting. Take a walk on the green side and explore Himchari National Park south of town. Trek across the lush tropical rain forest and grasslands, and marvel at the waterfalls, the largest of which cascades down toward the beach. Or take a 40-minute ride to Dulahazara Safari Park for a close encounter with a Bengal Tiger, one of the 165 animal species living in the 2,224–acre park.

Cox’s Bazar is the most visited spot by travelers in Bangladesh (nearly two million tourists, majority of which are locals), but it has yet to attain the status as a major international tourist destination.

The refugee camps

Living close by are a million refugees. This is seen by the locals as Bangladesh’s major obstacle why Cox’s Bazar can’t make it to the international tourists’ bucket list. It’s perhaps the downside of Bangladesh’s compassion for its neighbors in need.

Rohingya people are an ethnic group who reside in Rakhine State, Myanmar. But the nation’s law does not recognize it as one of its eight indigenous races, and are referred to as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. They are denied citizenship under the 1982 Myanmar nationality law and have been called the most persecuted minority group in the world.

Rohingyans have been migrated across the regions in the past. But in August 2017, more than 671,000 Rohingya Muslims fled for Bangladesh after Rohingya Arsa militants attacked more than 30 police posts in Myanmar. The military retaliated and conducted a “clearance operations.”

To date, more than a million refugees live in nine refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar, the biggest of which was built over deforested land. Aside from the Bangladesh government providing manpower, security and aid, the global community are doing their share. Sending aid are UN agencies, international and national NGOs, World Bank, Asian Development Bank and even local charities and generous individuals. With all the sectors working hand in hand, the refugees receive the basic needs of shelter, food, medicine, and education.

The situation is becoming burdensome, admits the Bangladesh government. There is no Plan B, the want repatriation of the refugees. The Rohingya people don’t have Plan B either. All they want is to go home.

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