Beyond Borders is TEDxLondon’s fortnightly exploration of different topics and ideas that inspire and intrigue us. In this special edition for World Refugee Day, we hear from social enterprise Better Shelter about their work with the Rohyingya people.

“Every time I visit a refugee camp, the unimaginable resistance of humans amazes me. We all want to work, create and contribute to the common good, and the need for routines and an everyday life is strong in most of us.

A few colleagues and myself recently returned from a mission in the Balukhali and Kutupalong camps in the Cox’s Bazar region in Bangladesh, near the border to Myanmar. The area, which, until recently, was covered by jungle, is currently home to over 800,000 people from the Rohingya tribe. Families live in makeshift shelters made of bamboo and plastic sheeting in enormous camps, which stretch out in all directions over hills and valleys as far as the eye can see. Life there is extremely difficult with limited access to health care and information, clean water and food. Many people have reported atrocious accounts of rape, sexual assault, torture and murder of family members before arriving in Bangladesh.

Despite many unimaginably painful memories from the past, as well as being in a difficult and vulnerable current situation with an uncertain future, there is clear will to uphold a dignified life in this temporary setting. People shop for food in the busy afternoon market to cook for Iftar later in the evening, when family and friends gather to break the fast together during Ramadan. A man gets his hair cut in one of the barbershops and a bunch of laughing children chase each other in the narrow alleys between never-ending rows of bamboo shelters.

The Rohingya have been victims of persecution for decades; their homes have been burned to the ground, their lives have been uprooted and they have lost family members in indescribable violence. Yet a basic human dignity remains, as well as the will to get up in the morning, to get dressed, play and learn with one’s friends or provide for one’s family – even when life seems impossibly difficult.

Today, on World Refugee Day, we must all take time to reflect on the inconceivable number of men, women and children displaced by natural disasters, conflict and persecution worldwide. We must empathise with the difficult situations into which they have been forced, while not underestimating their capacity to contribute and their will to live a dignified life.”

Märta Terne, Head of Communications, Better Shelter.

The Rohingya are an ethnic group, the majority of whom are Muslim and have lived for centuries in the Buddhist-majority Myanmar. Not considered one of the country’s 135 official ethnic groups, they have been denied citizenship in Myanmar since 1982, which has effectively rendered them stateless.

A boy with his plastic bottle racecar in Kutupalong. Photo: Better Shelter/Märta Terne

About Better Shelter

“Better Shelter is a humanitarian innovation project and a social enterprise based in Sweden. We design and develop modular post emergency shelters with an aim to improve the lives of persons displaced by armed conflicts and natural disasters by providing a safer and more dignified home away from home. The project, initiated in 2010 in partnership between Better Shelter, the IKEA Foundation and UNHCR, was rolled out on a large scale in 2015. Thousands of shelters have been shipped to refugee camps, transit sites and emergency response programs in Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Asia where they today serve as temporary homes, clinics and child friendly spaces.”

“No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark […] No one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land.”

From “Home” by Warsan Shire

A view of Kutupalong. Photo: Better Shelter/Märta Terne

World Refugee Day: 20 June 2018

Did you know: Every 20 minutes people leave everything behind to escape war, persecution or terror.

World Refugee Day takes place each year to commemorate the strength, courage and perseverance of millions of refugees. This year, World Refugee Day also marks a key moment for the global public to show support for families forced to flee.

‘Refugee’: A definition

A refugee is someone who fled his or her home and country owing to “a well-founded fear of persecution because of his/her race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.”

Definition by United Nations 1951 Refugee Convention

Did you know: The number of people forced to flee reached 68.5 million at the start of 2018. This is as many people as there are living in the United Kingdom. [Source]

Supporting refugees



Further reading: Get educated, take action

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