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Bangladesh: Rohingya Muslim plight through the eyes of children

21st Sep 2017
Bangladesh: Rohingya Muslim plight through the eyes of children

By Mutasim Billah and Safvan Allahverdi

 

COX’S BAZAR, Bangladesh (AA) – Saddam Hossain’s days had been filled with his parents’ love and affection. He was studying at an Islamic school in Myanmar. He had many classmates and playmates. But then, a sudden disaster changed everything.

Saddam, 10, told Anadolu Agency that his father was shot dead by Myanmar’s military.

“When my father was shot dead by the army, afterwards I fled with my mother, but I lost her at the border,” he said.

He crossed the border with other Rohingya Muslims fleeing to neighboring Bangladesh — one of 421,000 Rohingya who have crossed from Myanmar’s western Rakhine state into Bangladesh since Aug. 25, according to the UN.

He now lives at the Nayapara refugee camp.

Saddam witnessed horrific scenes of the army hurling torches onto houses to burn them down.

According to satellite images, 214 villages in Rakhine have been largely destroyed over the last month, Human Rights Watch said Tuesday.

Saddam still seems to be in shock, as he has undergone major trauma.

He has not yet fully understood that something has gone seriously wrong. What he notices is that he is living with many fellow Rohingya in a very small room.

The refugees are fleeing a fresh security operation in which security forces and Buddhist mobs have killed men, women and children, looted homes, and torched Rohingya villages.

According to Bangladeshi Foreign Minister Abul Hasan Mahmood Ali, around 3,000 Rohingya have been killed in the crackdown.

The Rohingya, described by the UN as the world’s most persecuted people, have faced heightened fears of attack since dozens were killed in communal violence in 2012.

Families torn apart

Last October, following attacks on border posts in Rakhine’s Maungdaw district, security forces launched a five-month crackdown in which, according to Rohingya groups, around 400 people were killed.

The UN documented mass gang rapes, killings — including of infants and young children — brutal beatings, and disappearances committed by security personnel. Investigators said such violations may have constituted crimes against humanity.

Karim Ullah, 10, is the eldest of a group of brothers and sisters who fled Myanmar.

His sister Ajida and brother Sadiq, both aged eight, fled the county with their grandmother Sayeeda Khatun, 70, and are now staying in a school at the Nayapara camp.

Karim Ullah says that after his father was shot dead and his mother was taken away, the group of children hid themselves in a jungle with their grandmother.

On the way to Bangladesh, he lost one of his brothers and they only reached this camp on Monday, he said.

His grandmother does not know what will happen to her grandchildren, and the children have yet to realize that their lives have entered a time of deep uncertainty.

Naim Ullah, eight, has two brothers and three sisters. Until recently they lived at Shilkali, Myanmar, and studied at a local Islamic school.

With their mother, they fled the violent crackdown in Myanmar. For the time being, they are at the Kutupalang camp in Bangladesh.

His father Badsha Mia, a fisherman, is still in Myanmar but, according to Naim Ullah, “brings daily necessities only at night” in his trawler.

Naim Ullah’s grandmother, Kulsum Khatun, 75, fled Myanmar for fear of her life.

However, the horrors she witnessed, being separated from her son and the rigors of the journey to Bangladesh proved too much and she passed away two days ago.

Traumatic atrocities

UNICEF says 60 percent of the fleeing Rohingya are children. Some 1,200 have fled without any other family members. The agency said those children needed $7.3 million in aid over the next three months to ensure their health.

Rohingya taking shelter in Myanmar have welcomed Turkey’s extensive humanitarian aid programs.

“We always see many Turkish people here at the camps,” Mohammad Nour, a Rohingya refugee, told Anadolu Agency. “And they always bring us food and other things we need since we arrived.”

Turkey has taken the lead in providing aid to Rohingya refugees, and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been pushing the issue at this week’s UN General Assembly.

Nour said he and his family had little time to put together their belongings before fleeing, leaving them without basic household essentials such as cooking pots, mats and blankets.

Turkish aid agencies such as the Red Crescent, Disaster and Emergency Management Agency, IHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation and Sadaka Tasi have been distributing aid packages containing food, clothes, basic kitchen equipment, hygiene materials, and household tools at camps.

“These people are overjoyed when they see us and our humanitarian groups because there aren’t many other organizations here,” Mustafa Demir, IHH’s regional coordinator, said.

“This is not only because we help them, it is also because we are connected to them all the way back to the Ottoman Empire.”

Demir warned that once the world spotlight on the region moves, it is unclear if humanitarian assistance would remain at current levels.

“It is now easier for us as humanitarian groups to access the region and provide all kinds of assistance to the Rohingya Muslims following President Erdogan urging the government of Bangladesh to give us easier access and assistance,” he said.

Maaryam Adhikari, a 46-year-old-woman living in Kutupalong, the second-largest refugee camp along the Bangladeshi border, said she did not have to struggle for aid because of the organized and structured help from Turkish agencies.

“I don’t have to fight others to get aid packages because they have us form a single-file line and they are very kind to us,” she told Anadolu Agency.

[Photo:  Rohingya Muslim children, fleeing from ongoing military operations in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, are seen at a refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh on September 20, 2017.  Photographer: Safvan Allahverdi/AA]

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