Orphan whose brother was shot in violence in Myanmar describes life at refugee camp in Bangladesh

A young woman whose entire family were killed during the massacre of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar has revealed how she feels ‘lucky’, and plans to support herself with a job sewing in a refugee camp. 

Rowshan, 22, is one of 700,000 Rohingya Muslim refugees living in Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh, having escaped her home in August 2017 after Myanmar troops began attacking and killing civilians as part of a  ‘clearance operation’. 

When her father and brother were brutally killed, and her mother died of a broken heart, Rowshan escaped with her neighbours to Bangladesh. 

Despite her circumstances, she said she is one of the lucky ones and planned to set up a sewing business in order to support herself in the camp.

Rowshan, 22 was orphaned whilst feeling violence in her village. Neighbours helped her make the seven day journey to Bangladesh, and she now supports herself with a sewing business

Rowshan, 22 was orphaned whilst feeling violence in her village. Neighbours helped her make the seven day journey to Bangladesh, and she now supports herself with a sewing business

Rowshan, 22 was orphaned whilst feeling violence in her village. Neighbours helped her make the seven day journey to Bangladesh, and she now supports herself with a sewing business 

The Rohingya are an ethnic minority in Myanmar, with their own language and culture, but the government denies their citizenship.

It even excluded them from the 2014 census, refusing to recognise them as people.  

The recent crisis was sparked in August 2017, with Rohingyas arriving in the refugee camp saying they fled after troops attacked and killed civilians, burning down their homes.  

More than half of the people arriving at Cox’s Bazaar from Myanmar are women and children without a male relative.

She was one of the 700,000 people who have arrived at the refugee camp Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh (pictured)

She was one of the 700,000 people who have arrived at the refugee camp Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh (pictured)

She was one of the 700,000 people who have arrived at the refugee camp Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh (pictured)

One of those was Rowshan, 22, who was orphaned as a result of violence in Myanmar, her brother was shot, her father beaten and died. Her mother she said, subsequently died of a ‘broken heart’. 

Unsafe and alone in her home country and with violence escalating, the young woman escaped with neighbours who helped her through the week long journey across the border in to Bangladesh.

‘One month after I arrived in Bangladesh my neighbours arranged for me to marry,’ she explained. ‘They couldn’t afford to look after me and said it would be safer if I was married to someone in the camp.’

Just four weeks into the marriage Rowshan’s husband left her. 

Taslia, 55,  took Rowshan in, despite having children of her own to support. Her husband was killed while fishing to get food for their family

Taslia, 55,  took Rowshan in, despite having children of her own to support. Her husband was killed while fishing to get food for their family

Taslia, 55,  took Rowshan in, despite having children of her own to support. Her husband was killed while fishing to get food for their family 

She said: ‘I found out he was already married and had a family with a local Bangladeshi woman. He lied just to use me. ‘Now I have no family and no husband here.’

She called herself one of the luckier ones, saying: ‘I am living with another neighbour and her family now. I’m trying to be self-sufficient, doing sewing and tailoring to support myself.

‘I am renting a sewing machine from a local doctor and plan to buy it when I earn enough money. ‘

Shopkeeper Taslia, 55 took her in, despite having her own family to support. 

Food shortages are a grave concern for families barely surviving in the cramped and over populated camps, where malnutrition among children is an extreme concern.

Food shortages are a grave concern for families barely surviving in the cramped and over populated camps, where malnutrition among children is an extreme concern.

Food shortages are a grave concern for families barely surviving in the cramped and over populated camps, where malnutrition among children is an extreme concern.

Taslia explained: ‘My husband was killed while fishing to get food for our children. His throat was slit and he was left in a river to die. My four children lost their father.’

Her brother helped her escape Myanmar and now lives in the shack next door, but Taslia says it’s not always safe in the camp as a female headed household.

She said: ”I worry about the safety of my children, especially when it gets dark. I won’t let my daughter leave the room we live in behind the shop.’

The ‘room’ she refers to is made of plastic and bamboo, it has no windows and a tiny door. 

Raju, 12, is not allowed out of her mother's house alone as the women fear violence in the refugee camp

Raju, 12, is not allowed out of her mother's house alone as the women fear violence in the refugee camp

Raju, 12, is not allowed out of her mother’s house alone as the women fear violence in the refugee camp 

Six people live, cook, eat and sleep in this camped, claustrophobic space. Raju 12, has not been outside for eight days, other than to use the hole-in-the-ground toilet behind the shelter.

‘I miss going to school,’ she said sadly. ‘I wanted to be a teacher, but there is no school here.

‘I help in the house doing cleaning, but I’m not allowed out that often to keep me safe. I really miss my friends and our farm back home. It had lots of land to play on.’

‘Mass Genocide’ in Myanmar 

Over two years thousands of Rohingya Muslims have been driven from their homes following a campaign of violence. 

Hundreds have been killed, with some being beheaded or even burned alive in bamboo cages by security services.

There are many reported cases of gang-rape, normally carried out by soldiers from the country’s powerful, self-ruling army in their easily recognizable green uniforms.

More than 700,000 have fled to neighboring Bangladesh.

In October 2018, the United Nations released a report that says genocide is still taking place against the Rohingya Muslims who remained in Myanmar.

Over the past year thousands of Rohingya Muslims (file image) have been driven from their homes following a campaign of violence. More than 700,000 have fled to neighboring Bangladesh

Over the past year thousands of Rohingya Muslims (file image) have been driven from their homes following a campaign of violence. More than 700,000 have fled to neighboring Bangladesh

Over the past year thousands of Rohingya Muslims (file image) have been driven from their homes following a campaign of violence. More than 700,000 have fled to neighboring Bangladesh

The report revealed that the country’s government is increasingly demonstrating it has no interest in establishing a fully functioning democracy.

Marzuki Darusman, chair of the UN fact-finding mission on Myanmar, said thousands of Rohingya are still fleeing to Bangladesh, and the estimated 250,000 to 400,000 who have stayed following last year’s brutal military campaign in the Buddhist-majority country ‘continue to suffer the most severe’ restrictions and repression.

‘It is an ongoing genocide that is taking place at the moment,’ he said in October. 

Darusman said the requirements for genocide, except perhaps for killings, ‘continue to hold’ for Rohingya still in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine state. 

These include causing serious bodily harm, inflicting conditions designed to destroy the Rohingya, and imposing measures to prevent births, he said.

Myanmar’s UN ambassador, Hau Do Suan, called the fact-finding mission ‘flawed, biased and politically motivated’ and said the government ‘categorically rejects’ its inference of ‘genocidal intent’.

Yanghee Lee, the UN special investigator on human rights in Myanmar, said she and many others in the international community hoped the situation under Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi ‘would be vastly different from the past – but it is really not that much different from the past’.

Lee added later that she thinks Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate and former political prisoner who now leads Myanmar’s civilian government, ‘is in total denial’ about accusations that the military in Myanmar raped, murdered and tortured Rohingya and burned their villages, sending over 700,000 fleeing to Bangladesh since August 2017.

The bright teenager seemed resigned to her restricted camp life, but worried about her future. 

‘I’m not sure what will happen if we have to stay here for a long time,’ she sighed. ‘I have already missed a lot of school. I would like to go home but I know it is not safe to go back yet.’

Lousie McCosker of Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies spent three months in the Cox’s Bazar camps meeting women like Raju and Rowshan.

‘They face impossibly hard decisions for themselves and their families,’ she explained. ‘These two women are resilient and exceptional for managing to earn a living. 

An estimated 60 babies a day are being born in the squalid camps in Cox’s Bazar. With a lack of food, unsanitary shelters and no access to education, they face a very uncertain and unsafe future in the world’s fastest growing humanitarian crisis

An estimated 60 babies a day are being born in the squalid camps in Cox’s Bazar. With a lack of food, unsanitary shelters and no access to education, they face a very uncertain and unsafe future in the world’s fastest growing humanitarian crisis

An estimated 60 babies a day are being born in the squalid camps in Cox’s Bazar. With a lack of food, unsanitary shelters and no access to education, they face a very uncertain and unsafe future in the world’s fastest growing humanitarian crisis

Many consider the camp so dangerous for young women, they do not allow their children out of the house at night

Many consider the camp so dangerous for young women, they do not allow their children out of the house at night

Many consider the camp so dangerous for young women, they do not allow their children out of the house at night 

‘Refugees are not permitted to work in Bangladesh, so without any source of income, many are forced to make morally tough choices that no woman should ever have to face.

She explained: ‘Arranging a marriage for your under-age daughter, or feeling like you have no other choice than to become a sex worker, is an unthinkable path to take, but for some young women in the camp, the fear of being trafficked for sexual exploitation is so real that some take the unimaginable decision to enter the sex trade on their own terms.

She continued: ‘When stripped of the ability to earn a living, humans become commodities and vulnerable young women are the most at risk of being exploited in this crisis.

‘This is one of the factors leading to girls as young as 12 being married within weeks of arriving in the camps. 

Disease can rapidly spread in the overpopulated and unsanitary camps. The Red Cross tries to educate children in the camp using red glitter

Disease can rapidly spread in the overpopulated and unsanitary camps. The Red Cross tries to educate children in the camp using red glitter

Disease can rapidly spread in the overpopulated and unsanitary camps. The Red Cross tries to educate children in the camp using red glitter 

‘Parents may believe this offers increased security for their young daughter, while helping to ease their own family burden.

‘It’s hard to comprehend food rations being a consideration when deciding your daughter’s future, but that’s the reality of this cruel life they are forced to lead right now. ‘

Fatema, 25, was one young woman who has witnessed the dangers after dark in the camp, but still believed it is a safer option than the alternative. 

‘I couldn’t sleep in Myanmar,’ she said. ‘I was so worried about being taken or tortured. I had a good life, cattle, a home and some land, but I wasn’t safe.’

There are no proper schools in the camps, no curriculums, no study guides, no homework, just makeshift learning centres. Bushra, 14, has already missed a year of school (pictured)

There are no proper schools in the camps, no curriculums, no study guides, no homework, just makeshift learning centres. Bushra, 14, has already missed a year of school (pictured)

There are no proper schools in the camps, no curriculums, no study guides, no homework, just makeshift learning centres. Bushra, 14, has already missed a year of school (pictured)

During a violent outbreak in her home village, Fatema’s six month old baby was grazed in the neck by a bullet and she was separated from her husband as they attempted to flee.

‘I used leaves as bandages for the blood and tried to keep it clean, but there was no way of getting medicine on the week long walk,’ she recalled. 

She added: ‘I didn’t know what had happened to my husband and my baby’s neck was infected. I thought my son was going to die.’

It was a month until Fatema finally got her son to the Bangladesh Red Crescent Field Hospital where he eventually got the vital treatment he needed.

Another woman, Fatema, 25, said she is terrified in the camp and worried that she has no way of supporting herself or her family

Another woman, Fatema, 25, said she is terrified in the camp and worried that she has no way of supporting herself or her family

Another woman, Fatema, 25, said she is terrified in the camp and worried that she has no way of supporting herself or her family 

‘Then my husband arrived,’ Fatema beamed. ‘We do not have much here, but at least we are together and our son is alive.

‘It would be good to get some seeds to try and plant crops, but the shelters are so close together, there’s nowhere to plant anything. 

‘Instead we rely on food handouts from the Government and charities working in the camp. 

‘I am very grateful for the support we get but I worry about how long it will last. We just have no way of supporting ourselves and conditions in camp are getting worse.’

Over 700,000 people now live in the camp in Bangladesh having escaped violence in Myanmar

Over 700,000 people now live in the camp in Bangladesh having escaped violence in Myanmar

Over 700,000 people now live in the camp in Bangladesh having escaped violence in Myanmar 

Installation recreates challenging conditions in Cox’s Bazar  

The British Red Cross have set up a week-long installation in Westfield Stratford City shopping centre from Monday 12-Sunday 18 August which recreates conditions in Cox's Bazar

The British Red Cross have set up a week-long installation in Westfield Stratford City shopping centre from Monday 12-Sunday 18 August which recreates conditions in Cox's Bazar

The British Red Cross have set up a week-long installation in Westfield Stratford City shopping centre from Monday 12-Sunday 18 August which recreates conditions in Cox’s Bazar

The British Red Cross will be bringing the world’s largest refugee camp to Westfield Stratford City shopping centre from Monday 12 – Sunday 18 August. 

The week-long installation will recreate the challenging conditions in Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh, where over 700,000 people now live after fleeing their homes in Myanmar in August 2017.  

‘There are not enough toilets, nowhere safe for women to wash their sanitary items and no lights, making it dangerous to get around at night. ‘

Sixty babies a day are born into the unsanitary squalor, adding pressure to the already cramped and overcrowded camps. 

With any repatriation likely to take years, they face an uncertain future in the World’s largest growing humanitarian crisis, yet Fatema said she was still grateful for the leaky, plastic shack she called home. 

She said: ‘It may not always be safe here, but it definitely isn’t safe to go back to Myanmar. For now, I’m just happy to have my husband, my son and a home.’ 

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