Thanks to Farzana Hossen and Mohammad Shahnewaz Khan
The Rohingya people are poor and persecuted, though they have lived in Myanmar for hundreds of years, most have been deprived of citizenship rights or even a legitimate identity. Violence and discrimination have been part of everyday life for decades. After police barracks were attacked in August, the Rohingyas in Rakhine province suffered a terrifying, brutal, collective punishment – women, children and men were killed, wounded and burned to death – their villages systematically burnt to the ground and half a million traumatised people forced to flee. Terrified people escaped across rivers and forests to find refuge in Bangladesh.
The villages are still burning, the violence intense – those who have escaped death arrived in Teknaf to face a painful and difficult future. The dangerous journey has depleted their meagre savings and assets and the conditions in the camps that have sprung up in the hilly forests by the Naf river are appalling. Experienced aid workers say the speed and scale of this tidal wave of desperate people is unprecedented and the dangers of disease very real, the challenge of getting medical care, food and clean water to so many hundreds of thousands of people is unprecedented.
Life in the camps though dreadful and dangerous, is now improving a little with determined action from the Bangladeshi government and the collective efforts of national and international charities and the generosity of local people. The logistical challenges and the difficulties of dealing with such desperate people in such unsuitable terrain are proving exceptionally difficult – especially with the real threat of dangerous diseases spreading through the overcrowded camps. Cholera, measles and the frightening possibility of polio returning to the region looms.
A psychologist seeing patients in a tented clinic, described the case of a young girl driven into anguished incoherence, attacking even her own mother; her sanity destroyed by the violence and brutality she had witnessed.
So many stories of violence and loss, so many people describing the same bloody scenes, so many people suffering so much, so much sadness, so many children whose faces show only pain and so many who bear scars. A child whose leg was beaten with military rifle butts until it broke, a boy whose leg was burnt and amputated and a woman shot three times in her leg, two of her children killed. So many so desperately ill, all collateral damage, all the victims of a brutal and organised programme of 'ethnic cleansing'.