Word Refugee Day: ‘I am grateful to Bangladesh for hosting Rohingya people but miss home in Myanmar’

WFP supports almost a million people in Cox’s Bazar, home to the world’s biggest refugee camp — this is Fatema’s story

Fatema at the Camp 22 electronic voucher shop in Cox’s Bazar. Photo: WFP/Nalifa Mehelin

There are 860,000 Rohingya refugees living in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. With few livelihood opportunities, nearly 100 percent of people totally rely on humanitarian organizations such as the World Food Programme (WFP) to survive. Prospects have been shattered by the coronavirus pandemic. Now the monsoon season looks set to worsen problems. In the face of such challenges, however, the resilience of Rohingya refugees such as Fatema prevails — and inspires. Interview by WFP staff

“My name is Fatema Begum. I am 28 years old. In my family, there is me and my husband, plus my mother and five children. Back home in Myanmar, we liked to eat rice, apples and oranges, all kinds of foods. We do like our meat but these days we don’t have money for that.

“I remember Myanmar every minute. We could eat well there. We didn’t come here voluntarily. My house was burned down, our belongings were looted, people in my neighbourhood were taken away.

Fatema picks up a month’s worth of rations. Photo: WFP/Nalifa Mehelin

“The neighbourhood next to ours was completely burned down. Women were tortured and raped. When we heard that any house could be burned down, we fled to another place — where we would be in the same situation again, having to flee. We stayed like this until we came to Bangladesh in 2017.

Eggs are one of the best-selling foods at the WFP-backed shops in Cox’s Bazar. Photo WFP/Gemma Snowdon

“Bangladesh’s done a lot for us. I am thankful for that. We were starving for three days. After we came here, they gave us water and snacks. They also gave biscuits to the children. Then a lot of people helped us when we reached Nila Bazar.

Fatema says that in Myanmar her community are referred to as ‘Bangladeshis’. Photo: WFP/Nalifa Mehelin

“We can eat here and are living peacefully. There is much peace here. But I miss my own country. We used to stay in beautiful houses. Now we live in a house made of tarpaulin. We have to hold it down with ropes if there is heavy wind.

“You should be able to move freely in your own country. But we cannot do that in our country. We need the right papers to go from one place to another.

‘We had to come here because of our bad luck,’ says Fatema. Photo: WFP/Nalifa Mehelin

“Being a refugee is very tough, we have to cope with that. We had to come here because of our bad luck. We wouldn’t have had to come here if we [were safe] in our own country. We are called “Bengali” or “Bangladeshi Muslims” there and here we are called “Myanmar nationals”. We need our own identity. Otherwise, where shall we go? I feel bad hearing this. What can we do? So, I tolerate this.

“Now we cannot go to the road due to coronavirus. We cannot go to the streets. My children create issues in the house. That’s the problem. Apart from that, there are no other problems. We have to stay neat and clean. I have to make my children play with each other and stay in the house. That’s a problem.”

World Food Programme Insight

Insight by The World Food Programme

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