A Hundred Thousand Bethlehems

Christmas is over. And a very different Christmas to boot. I am back in Norway, probably the most quiet and peaceful country in the world. Back to snow and ice and winter darkness. Back to a place where catastrophe and tragedy are strangers to most and familiar only to the few.

The contrast could not be greater to Bangladesh where I spent Christmas and New Year. Near the border to Myanmar, in the far east corner of Bangladesh, in one of the poorest parts of the country, a refugee camp has sprung up that is most likely the largest in the world. 850 000 people – men, women and children – live under conditions that can only be described as abominable. Some of them have lived there since 1994 when the first wave of refugees spilled across the border from Myanmar. The great majority has arrived since august when the violence in their home country forced them to pack up and flee. I had seen the footage of the exodus on TV before leaving and I had seen the photos of the refugee camp stretching for miles and miles across the once wooded hills of Chittagong province.

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