Kamal Hossain is an ordinary man with an ordinary life, but he has taken up an extraordinary task upon his shoulder purely out of the goodness of his heart.
He has set up a Lost and Found booth at the Kutupalong registered refugee camp in Ukhiya, Cox’s Bazar. His aim: reuniting the Rohingya refugees arriving at the camp with their loved ones whom they lost on their perilous journey to Bangladesh.
Since August 25, more than half a million Rohingya have fled military atrocities in their homeland, the Rakhine state in Myanmar, and taken shelter in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. According to Unicef, more than 200,000 of these refugees are children, nearly 13,000 of who are unaccompanied or orphan.
Kamal has been doing the job of reuniting lost families since the beginning of the crisis.
Driven out of home
A man in his mid-30s, Kamal is a refugee himself, so he knows the pain of being driven out of home.
“I am a registered refugee here,” he told the Dhaka Tribune. “My family used to live at Bolibazar in Maungdaw, Rakhine. My parents fled Rakhine with me and my siblings in the ’80s, when I was just two years old,”
Kamal’s Lost and Found booth is a simple establishment with a table, a microphone with two sound boxes, and workbook – all set up under a bamboo tent. He starts working at 8:30 am and continues until 11 pm. His younger brother Nazir Ahmed, who has been featured by both national and international media for the Lost and Found booth, helps out at the booth when Kamal is busy.
Kamal also works as a security guard at the Kutupalong office of Handicap International, a European NGO that provides help at refugee camps. He works at Handicap and runs the Lost and Found Booth simultaneously.
Is it not hectic to do two jobs at once?
Not for Kamal. He said he was glad to do it, because it meant he was able to help people.
Although he has been sympathetic towards the plight of the Rohingya refugees, there was one incident that particularly drove him to set up the booth.
“Just after the latest Rohingya influx started, one morning, around 8 am, I found a woman, in 40s, crying in front of my office gate,” Kamal told the Dhaka Tribune. “She had lost her child and could not find him anywhere. She had lost everything back home, and now.
Kamal could not get the woman out of his mind. “After work, I found her and decided to help her.”
He rented a microphone at Bangladeshi Taka 3,000 – same as his monthly salary at Handicap – for eight days and started making announcements for her missing child.
Within a few hours, Kamal was able to find the child. Seeing the mother and the son reunited, Kamal knew what he wanted to do to help the Rohingya refugees.
His efforts drew the attention of the UN Refugee Agency.
“When I went to give back the microphone, people from the UNHCR came to me. They asked me to continue and said they would pay the expenses,” Kamal said. “The UNHCR has helped me set up this booth. I just have to make the announcements.”
Since then, Kamal has made announcements for nearly 1,500 missing persons at the camp, and has successfully reunited 742 refugees at the camp.
He appreciates the gravity of the work he does and thus is meticulous about it.
He maintains a workbook, where he records all the details of every case that comes to him.
“I announce five things for a missing child: Name and age of the child, description of the child’s clothes, name of the child’s mother, name of his or her village in Myanmar, and name of the child’s father,” Kamal said. “When someone comes looking for his or her child or parent, I collect their information and cross-check with the workbook so I know that we are reuniting the right family.”
The cross-checking was also necessary for security reasons, he said.
“I have seen people here in the camp who were outsiders. Some of the people looking for lost children could also be child traffickers. That is why I always cross-check information before handing over a lost child to their parents. I fear that if the children fall in the hands of a wrong person, they may get into even bigger trouble than they already are in.”
This correspondent saw Kamal in action when he reunited not one, but two families at the same time.
While Kamal was talking to the Dhaka Tribune, a woman came to his booth looking for lost her son. Kamal had a young boy sleeping at the camp, who had also lost his parents in the chaos of the refugee camp. When he brought the boy into the booth and asked the woman, she said he was not her son.
Now he had a lost son and a lost mother in his hands.
Not losing his calm, Kamal took details from the boy, and he took the details of the woman’s son from her. Then he made separate announcements.
Within two minutes, a teenager reported at the booth. Cross-checking his information, Kamal found that he was indeed the woman’s son.
While the teenage son and his mother was happily getting reunited, a woman dashed into the booth, describing his colour of her missing son’s shirt. The description matched with the boy under Kamal’s care. He cross-checked all the information and, finding everything in order, handed over the boy to his mother.
The young mother, in tears, could not thank Kamal enough for reuniting her with her son, offering him what little valuables she had left.
Smiling, Kamal said the satisfaction of being of help to them was enough.
It was evident in his actions; he spent all of his salary to rent a microphone to make missing persons announcements without a second thought.
“I don’t need much in life. I am a registered refugee, so I get rations from the government and don’t need to buy food for my family. We have a little something to go by, but these new refugees – they have nothing. That is why I spent all of my salary to help those people,” he said.
“I am a simple man. I am trying to help these people in serious need to the best of my ability, and sometimes, I am succeeding in making some of them happy,” he said. “Even if no one comes forward to help me or I do not get any financial assistance, I will continue do it, because helping these people find their lost loved ones brings me peace.”
This article first appeared on Dhaka Tribune.