AILSA CHANG, HOST:
This week, a United Nations commission labeled the violence against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar crimes against humanity. It also said the country's top military officials should be tried for genocide. Last year's attacks by Myanmar soldiers caused more than 700,000 Rohingya to flee across the border into Bangladesh. Now, one year later, those Rohingya refugees remain stuck there in sprawling makeshift camps. NPR's Jason Beaubien reports.
JASON BEAUBIEN, BYLINE: On a hillside in the Balukhali camp, two dozen boys have climbed to the highest point on a sandy ridge to fly homemade toy airplanes that they call forfori. Each toy is a plastic soda bottle with a small strip of metal stuck to the cap as a propeller. Some are strapped onto bamboo poles. The boys thrust the sticks skyward trying to catch the stronger winds. Umar Farooq, who's 11, says they make the toy airplanes themselves.
UMAR FAROOQ: (Speaking Rohingya).
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: They make it for fun.
BEAUBIEN: They make them for fun?
Farooq says the most important part of the toy is the propeller. To spin properly, it can't be too big or too small.
UNIDENTIFIED CHILDREN: (Screaming).
BEAUBIEN: UNICEF estimates that more than half the Rohingya refugees are children. There's a word in Rohingya, afandhi, that means children roaming around, not doing anything of any importance. And this is a concern of parents in the camps. Farooq and his friends, however, say that's not the case with them.
UMAR: (Speaking Rohingya).
BEAUBIEN: Farooq lists off all the things they do each day from flying their airplanes to playing soccer to collecting firewood to studying. But there is concern that these refugee kids could become a lost generation. They're not learning to farm as they would back home from their parents. Bangladesh officials have resisted allowing aid groups to set up formal schools in the camps, fearing that such amenities will encourage the refugees to stay. Instead of classrooms, charities have opened learning centers and child-friendly spaces.
UMAR: (Speaking Rohingya).
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: It is for two hours.
BEAUBIEN: For two hours.
The boys say they go to what they call school for two hours a day. And this is the norm for most of the refugee kids. Keeping busy in the camps can also be a challenge for adults. The Rohingya technically are not allowed to work in Bangladesh. Each family receives dry rations twice a month from the U.N. World Food Program. Some men are able to get work clearing drainage ditches or carrying goods into areas of the camps that are accessible only by foot. Women and girls often collect firewood to sell. Recently, more and more refugees have been setting up small businesses. Simple outdoor markets have emerged along the main paths through the camps. But there are also more formal businesses - small tea shops and stalls where young men charge cellphones from a solar panel. In the Balukhali 2 camp, Eliyas Mohammed has set up two long mirrors under a tarp to create a barbershop. Along with two of his friends, he trims hair for roughly 40 cents a cut.
ELIYAS MOHAMMED: (Through interpreter) When we got here, we didn't have any work. We thought, how can we survive here? We decided it would be better to start this shop to make some money to support our families.
BEAUBIEN: When they first opened the barbershop at the end of 2017, Mohammed says they had few customers because hardly any of the Rohingya had any money. But in a sign of how the camp economy has grown, Mohammed says that's been changing. On a good day, he can now take home $4 or $5, which allows his family to supplement the basic international food rations. And he adds the barbershop gives him something to do. Jason Beaubien, NPR News.
(SOUNDBITE OF TYCHO'S "AWAKE")
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.