Rohingya- Are we doing enough?

by Shamit Mahbub Shahabuddin

The river Naf stands witness to the brutality against the Rohingya people and has done for centuries. The last two decades alone have seen at least six incidents of severe brutality against the Rohingyas of Rakhine. For centuries, the Rohingyas have left Myanmar’s mainland and taken refuge in Bangladesh. In Chittagong (Bangladesh), one of the earliest ports of the sub-continent, the people are divided into two ethnic groups, the Chatiggarain and the Rohain. The Rohain are descendants of the Rohingyas that have long lived in greater Chittagong and its coastal areas. Thus, the Rohingya migration is not a new phenomenon for the coastal region. But the brutality and the sheer magnitude of the persecution over the last month, has left everyone utterly stunned. How does one handle such inhumane brutality and how should one address such problems? Are we doing enough?

People of all age groups crossing the border into Bangladesh
Rohingyas flood into Bangladesh in large numbers everyday

One of the challenges faced by NGOs on the ground is knowing where to start when faced with such calamity. The two stories below highlight some of the tragic situations faced by Friendship’s team members out in the field and their frustrations in trying to resolve these issues.

Rohingya women and children waiting on the roadside for their husbands or fathers.

A Friendship team is now located in Balukhali, a small area in the Teknaf region. Eight kilometers away there is a small hill top on which a few families of Rohingyas have set up their makeshift homes. As the team reaches the top of the hill, they see a woman in her mid-thirties sitting on the ground. Behind her a little boy of three or four years old anxiously looks at the arriving party. His gestures are apparently playful, crouched down behind his mother as if playing hide and seek. Hoping to bond with them, the team members smile at both mother and child and start to play hide and seek with the child. Suddenly the child is scared and agitated to the point of hysteria. Confused, they turn to the mother who by now, has broken down and has started punching her own chest in frustration. “He is still scared… and it’s not going away… How can it go away? If you see your own mother being violated… how can you be normal again?” She howls. The incident happened before they could flee from their village. Now having taken refuge on the hilltop they have access to food, clothing, water, toilets, shelter…. But psychologically they remain utterly distraught. A child trying to come to terms with witnessing such extreme violence at this age is not a child any longer. He has been robbed of his childhood. The mother can’t look at her own son ashamed of a crime that was not committed by her but to her. Both are traumatized and probably will be for a long time to come… maybe for as long as they live. Who can they turn to? Who will hold their hand and try to take away the disgust that scars them? Who will ensure their mental rehabilitation?

A typical refugee campsite in Bangladesh .
Having lost their husbands, women face the dilemma of how to get food and provide for their children. Some have no choice but to stand in never-ending queues under the scorching sun for hours with new born babies.

The next story is that of a young Rohingya mother living in one of the camps having just given birth. It is the story of Rahela, and her one-week old baby Moni. Our team met them at one of the camps. She can’t find her husband. They got separated in the crowd and now she is stranded there without him. As a refugee in a foreign land, she cannot understand what others are saying and the volunteers can’t understand her. She is hungry, delusional and desperate to provide for her newborn child. She has no money. She can’t stand in the queue for food with the child. Queuing in a refugee camp can be cutthroat. Although it is somewhat disciplined, she must fight for her spot. She then has to wait for hours in the queue under the scorching sun with a week-old baby. It is not an option for her. Our team gave her some money but she has never seen the currency before, she does not understand its denomination and does not know what to get against it or from where.

The queue for food is somewhat organised but it is still a real challenge to secure your spot.

How do you handle situations like these? Who holds her baby while she goes off and looks for food? Who looks for her husband? There is a missing persons tent but all instructions are written in English which she does not understand being Burmese. And what is the appropriate language to use for them?

Reflecting upon these situations Kazi Amdad (Head of Disaster Management at Friendship) states:

“As NGOs we provide food, shelter, medical care, water, sanitation, education etc etc. But who fills these gaps? Where are the thousands of youth clubs, Scouts? BNCCs? Volunteers? Because we need them now and not later. We need to be human in the true sense of the word at this time…”
Temporary bridge built by Friendship for the people to cross over to safety.

Friendship’s team is working in the field to try and help identify and fill these gaps where possible.

EMERGENCY APPEAL: The Rohingya refugees are in urgent need of aid. Please help us support them by donating now: www.friendship.ngo/donate

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