KUTUPALONG, BANGLADESH: In a refugee camp in Bangladesh crammed with makeshift bamboo shelters, Rohingya boys gather on one of the few remaining clear areas of ground for an energetic bout of chinlone — a version of keepie-uppie that is one of the few pleasures they can still enjoy.
Chinlone, a cross between football and volleyball played with a woven cane ball, is hugely popular in the villages of Myanmar where the refugees are from.
For the children, it offers a brief respite from the fight for survival in squalid camps that have tripled in size with the arrival of more than 600,000 Rohingya in little more than two months.
They are fleeing a fresh outbreak of ethnic violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, where militant attacks on police posts in August triggered a military crackdown targeting the stateless Muslim minority.
When Mohammad Faisal fled Myanmar during an earlier bout of violence three years ago, his chinlone ball was among the prized possessions he packed into the small bag that was all the family could take.
“I love it. All my friends love this sport,” the 16-year-old said in the Kutupalong refugee camp as he and his friends enjoyed a kickaround.
Chinlone — a much loved sport across Myanmar — involves six players keeping a ball above the ground using any part of their body except their hands.
To the untrained eye it looks like a particularly elaborate form of keepie uppie, with expert players performing flips as they kick the ball high into the air.
“The fun is to keep the ball on air as long as you can. We would often keep it up there for more than an hour,” said Saiful Islam, 18, a keen chinlone player who was born in the camp.
Nurul Amin, 37, recalls how he used to play the sport with his Rakhine neighbours in their village in mainly Buddhist Myanmar before ethnic tensions set in.
Many of the refugees have said their ethnic Rakhine neighbours took part in the violence that has forced hundreds of thousands to flee, including burning Rohingya homes and mosques to the ground.
“That was the time when there was a lot of camaraderie between the communities. There were sports competitions in every village in Rakhine,” said Amin.
“The trust is broken forever. There’s no way we will gather again to play chinlone.”