Copyright: Tom Pilston and Kathleen Prior for Action Against Hunger
Between hope and a hard place: The Rohingya 'mega camps' of Bangladesh
Life, loss and hope through the eyes of three Rohingya refugees.
Aug 20 2019
A STATE OF SHOCK
Mohammed Riaz, 17, was living in a village called Buthidaung when the soldiers came.
“It happened so quickly,” he recalls.
He escaped and then reunited with his mother, Hasina Begum, in Bangladesh. He lost his brother and two sisters. “I was so scared. It happened so quickly,” Mohammed says, sitting in a tent in Balukhali camp. “Even if I wanted to rescue them, I was so scared.”
Roshida Begum, 35, lost her husband in the violence and fled with her six children.
“There was bombing, shooting and burning of houses. I will never know why,” Roshida says sadly. “I ran with my uncle and children and we hid in the hills. The journey was terrible. When we got to the border, I had to beg for money for medicine because my husband is not here. My children became sick.”
Mohammed Tayob, 40, a Rohingya community leader, could do little as soldiers raided his village over ten days.
“My mother and father were shot, so we ran,” he said. For three days, his wife and two young children trudged through the hills and forests to reach Balukhali and leave their old life behind.
“Many arrived in a really bad condition. I saw ten times more people than I was used to seeing.” says Shaki Rani Bose, a Woman’s Health Education Officer and Counsellor
EXODUS: THE REFUGEE “MEGA CAMP”
By spring 2018, over one million people were living in Kutupalong-Balukhali, a tiny area in eastern Bangladesh. The population of the “mega camp” is larger than Liverpool and Manchester. It was as if twelve percent of London had been displaced. It’s very difficult to imagine the situation, but local communities, refugees and our staff are finding solutions to everyday challenges facing those living in Kutupalong-Balukhali.
EVERYDAY CHALLENGES, EVERYDAY SOLUTIONS
900 staff from Action Against Hunger Bangladesh are working on the frontlines in the Kutupalong-Balukhali ‘mega camps’. With support of local Bangladeshi communities and Rohingya refugees - who had fled Myanmar before the refugee crisis escalated in August, 2017 – they are providing support to hundreds of thousands living in Kutupalong-Balukhali. The camps face many challenges and have been battered by monsoons and landslides. The trauma of displacement, and the impact of the brutal military crackdown still reverberates through the Rohingya community.
Issues which can be solved easily for in everyday life can be a major, often daily, challenge for people people living in Kutupalong-Balukhali, whether it be accessing a functioning toilet, eating lunch or finding somewhere for your child to play in safety. These daily challenges remain the same two years later for families in the camp.
Small changes and actions have made a big difference.
At one point, our teams in Bangladesh were treating 3,679 children under five for undernutrition every day.
“We are helping children to get out of hunger and have better lives in the future.” said Plabon Sarkar, Senior Health Officer at Action Against Hunger Bangladesh. “We have saved so many lives here.”
“We have a second chance. If we hadn’t found kindness and help here, I don’t think we would have survived,” said Roshida. “The children are better physically now thanks to the meals we are given here. It would have been a struggle. I am grateful for that”
Many refugees have engaged with our stress management sessions and received one-to-one and group sessions focused on coping with the memories of violence from two years ago.
“I feel a bit more stable, day by day. I used to feel very alone. I didn’t think anyone wanted to listen,” says Mohammed Tayob, who received one-to-one psychosocial support. “I wanted justice for my parents. It was a relief to find people who understood the same things as me. Today when I share my story, I feel supported. I can cope better with the future, whatever it may bring.”
“Psychological first aid must always be closely linked with nutrition programmes in large-scale emergencies like this,” said Farhana Rahman, Mental Health Director at Action Against Hunger Bangladesh.
“If you are stressed you will not be able to eat, sleep or maintain a healthy life. It’s that simple.”
Mohammed Riaz, like Mohammed Tayob, was also more optimistic about the future. “I used to isolate myself,” he said. “The sessions we are having encourage me to share my story with others and to talk.”
For all the terrible things which have happened, there is hope. Shaki Bose, who is supporting hundreds of pregnant and breastfeeding mothers, embodies this hope. “We have heard lots of stories of unspeakable brutality. Some of the cases I have seen have been very complicated,” she reflects.
“I have good and bad feeling working inside the camp. The challenges refugees face are unbearable. I feel good that they are in a safe place now. There is someone beside them who cares about them. That makes me feel good. I always see some smiling and encouraging faces, and that’s what makes me get up every morning.”
Two years on, the work to save lives continues.
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