COX'S BAZAR, Bangladesh (ChurchMilitant.com) - Christians are enduring ongoing persecution in Bangladesh.
Roughly 2,000 Christians live alongside 1.1 million Muslims inside the Kutupalong refugee camp — the world's largest — in the southeastern Bangladeshi city of Cox's Bazar.
Hailing originally from neighboring Myanmar, hundreds of thousands of ethnic Rohingyas — Muslim and Christian —began pouring into Bangladesh in August 2017, driven into exile by a military crackdown in their home country. More than 700,000 Rohingyas, mostly children and women, crossed into Bangladesh. Three years later, hundreds of thousands continue to live as refugees in Bangladesh.
Among them is Saiful Peter, a Christian Rohingya youth and member of Bethel Church: Kutupalong Rohingya Christian Fellowship, a Protestant congregation.
"We Muslims and Christians have been living together for many years," Peter told Church Militant, "but an Islamic extremist group called the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) is attacking us almost every day in the camp and on Sundays during Sunday prayer service. We are discriminated against by the Muslim Rohingya because we are Christian."
Peter, a preacher at Bethel Church, has reported the attacks against Rohingya Christians to United Nations (UN) forces and local officials, but neither responded to his pleas.
"Three Christians were kidnapped on Jan. 26," he told Church Militant. In that attack, Peter said, "our church and houses were demolished, church members were injured and seven women were sexually abused. But no one cares about this."
Peter claimed that Muslim Rohingya leaders and Islamist extremists expelled them from the camp.
The three Christians who were kidnapped — including a 14-year-old girl — have not been recovered.
The young girl, Peter said, "was forcibly converted to Islam and married away to an ARSA member."
The other two, he said, are feared dead.
Peter told Church Militant that Christian Rohingyas do not have the freedom to practice their faith. He lamented they are not safe in Kutupalong or other camps.
"After the attack, 25 Christian Rohingya families were placed in the so-called transit camp that is run by the UN," he noted. "UN officials told us earlier that they are going to build a separate camp for us in order to ensure our protection."
"It's been nine months, but they haven't done anything for us," said Peter. "We are discriminated against and humiliated here in the transit camp by the local staff. The local Muslim staff and the security guards in the transit camp are threatening us."
Peter said that recently, police threw a group of Christians in jail, falsely accusing them of committing crime. No one, he said, has been able to help them.
Another persecuted Christian Rohingya — a woman — shared with Church Militant her story of torture.
Nupor Begum (not her real name) said Rohingya Muslims sexually assaulted her on Jan. 26.
When we stayed at camp, ARSA cut down our house. They attacked me and six other women sexually. They robbed us of our valuables. Whenever we protested, they tortured us and took away our gold earrings. They touched our private parts.
Now Christians are living in the Transit Center. We can't continue our religious activities in the Transit Center. Transit Center staff are Muslims and they hate us. If somebody would take us in a Christian house or country, we could live in peace and continue our religious activity freely.
Begum said she doesn't want to return to her camp for security reasons. But the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the UN agency dedicated to helping displaced peoples, wants the Christian Rohingya to return to the camp.
Peter and other Christians are appealing to the government of Bangladesh for support.
He explained to Church Militant:
Among roughly 1.1 million Rohingya Muslims in the camps, Christians number just about 2,000. The Rohingya majority Muslims don't want us to stay in camps with them and they want us to leave for a Christian country or elsewhere. Otherwise, they will continuously persecute us and punish us according to their Islamic Laws, as they have already done.
Therefore, we call on the Bangladeshi government to please ensure our security, to please protect our lives and shelter us in a separate camp as UNHCR promised they would after the attack our houses and church. Religious freedom must be allowed so that we can practice our faith freely. We want to go back to our home, motherland Myanmar, with fully restored citizenship. Or please send us to a Christian country, since our majority Rohingya Muslims don't want us to stay with them.
But the prospects for a solution appear dim. Though global media reports support Christian claims that ARSA is active in the Rohingya camps, Bangladeshi officials insist there is no ARSA presence in Cox's Bazar.
According to Masud Hossain, superintendent of police for Cox's Bazar, "There is no existence of ARSA or any other terrorist outfits in the Rohingya camps."
Police also insisted that Christian Rohingyas are living securely in the Transit Center and have said they've received no written complaints about persecution.
Bangladesh is overwhelmingly Muslim; just 0.3% of its population of 166 million — roughly half a million people — is Christian.