In a Rohingya Refugee Camp, Soccer Is a Joyful Escape

The Rohingya, a Muslim ethnic group, are not recognized as citizens in their native Myanmar even though they have lived there for hundreds of years. They have endured periodic persecution at the hands of the Myanmar armed forces and the majority Buddhist population, who mostly see them as illegal immigrants who should go home to Bangladesh.


Showering after playing a game. Soccer is a prized diversion, helping players and spectators forget about their exile.

Allison Joyce for The New York Times

Mr. Ismail’s family arrived in 1992 with the first wave of Rohingya refugees, when about 250,000 Rohingya fled abuse at the hands of the Myanmar military. About 33,000 of them remain, living in official United Nations refugee camps in Kutupalong and Nayapara, south of Cox’s Bazar along the Myanmar border.

Bangladesh, a vastly overpopulated country, stopped registering new refugees after 1992, hoping that taking a hard line would deter Rohingya from coming, but it was wrong.

Since 2012, 200,000 more refugees have come, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, creating an unofficial camp alongside the official one. The latest wave began in October, when the Myanmar military began a deadly counterinsurgency campaign after Rohingya militants attacked three border posts, killing nine police officers.

Refugees fleeing the military sweep, which was accompanied by arson, murder and rape, more than doubled the size of the unofficial camp, to 75,000 from an estimated 34,000 in 2013, according to the International Organization for Migration.

The Bangladeshi government has denied the refugees education and work permits “because we want them to return” to Myanmar, said Najnin Sarwar Kaberi, a local official for the governing party, the Bangladesh Awami League. “If they settle here the size of our population will become…

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