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An Exodus of Pain half a million people driven from their homes

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.

Fire in villages across the border in Myanmar. Locals in Bangladesh say they see 15-20 such fires every day.

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.

Rohingya refugees who arrived in Bangladesh the previous night head to Teknaf, where they are registered at a police checkpoint.
Rohingya refugees who arrived from Myanmar to Shah Porir Dwip the previous night, on a boat headed to Bhanga in Teknaf, Cox's Bazar.

So many people are so desperately traumatised, so many children are alone and fearful, so many parents mourning their lost children, so many have witnessed so much violence – their loved ones murdered in the burning villages. Even old people and children have been injured and killed, women raped and violated, their homes, their land, their animals destroyed. The Myanmar government decrees that burnt land can be claimed by the state, the burnings continue relentlessly. Sadly the attacks on the Rohingya are endorsed by the majority of people in Myanmar. Social media propaganda has successfully poisoned peoples’ minds.

Densely packed dwellings housing Rohingya refugees, made of bamboo and plastic sheets, dot the once green hillsides of Balukhali, Teknaf.
An exhausted baby sleeps on the floor of their makeshift home in Balukhali camp, Teknaf.
13 year-old Abdul Bashar was burnt in the attacks. One of his legs had to be amputated; 9 year-old Nur Kajol was beaten by soldiers and her leg broken.

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.

The interior of a makeshift home in Balukhali camp, Teknaf

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.

A woman who has just entered the camp takes care of her traumatised daughter. The girl's father has gone out in search of shelter

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'.

A girl looks after her injured father at the 250-bed Sadar Hospital in Cox's Bazar
Fatima with her sick baby at the 250-bed Sadar Hospital in Cox's Bazar.

‘Never again’ was what the international institutions had said before. We are witnessing this promise broken. The persecuted, tormented and displaced Rohingya people must be protected now – returned to their land, their homes and to a better future.

Created By
Shahidul Alam
Appreciate

Credits:

Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

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