TEKNAF – Before sunrise, Abdul Aziz, 31, and his family of 7, including his infant daughter and his 70 years old father-in-law, crossed the Naf River with a group of about 40 Rohingya Muslims. They were making their way down Marine Drive Road in Shemlapur, Teknaf, Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh heading to the Bhalukali refugee camp in Teknaf, to be reunited with relatives whom they have been in contact with via cell phone for the last few months.
Aziz said their journey started 17 days ago when they trekked through the jungle to the riverbank of the Naf River, where they waited for 15 days for a boat to be sent that had been financed by relatives living in Saudi Arabia.
In the Maungdaw District, Buthidaung Township, Myanmar, Aziz and his family tended to their land where they farmed rice and raised goats and cows until the Myanmar military took it all by force.
Aziz’s brother-in-law, Muhammad Hashim, 35, said they do not know exactly what they will do now, but if there is work they are willing to work.
Hashim said, “The Myanmar military has been persecuting us for a long time, so we come here because Bangladeshi are Muslim, if I come here then at least we will die with Muslim on Muslim land.”
Their story is not unique, according to the UNHCR, since violence broke out in Myanmar’s Rakhine state in late August, more than half a million Rohingya refugees have made the exodus into neighboring Bangladesh, escaping the violent military crackdown.
UNHCR said over the last weekend over 10,000 Rohingya refugees have migrated into Bangladesh refugee camps putting the UN and NGOs into overdrive to respond to the influx of refugees.
“We gave our gold and jewelry for the boat fair, we both did,” said Fatima Khatoon, 35, as she points to her sister-in-law, also named Fatima Khatoon, 25. The 40,000 Taka worth of jewelry was enough to bring their family of 10 over the river to Shapuree Island, Sabrang, Teknaf, where they arrived last night.
Stopping to share their journey before entering the relief center outside Bhalukali refugee camp, the younger Khatoon said they decided to leave now because up until 10 days ago they had not faced any harassment from the Myanmar military until their homes were burned in their village of Guta Pyin (Gudampara), a Rohingya village in Buthidaung town in the Rakhine state. The journey took 6 days through the jungle before the boat ride last night. They have heard their family is in Nayapara (Mosoni) refugee camp, where they hope to be reunited.
All they have left is 150 Burmese kyat and vow never to go back to Myanmar. Khatoon said, “We have come to feel safe unless Myanmar becomes safe like Bangladesh, then we will go back.” She continued, “Since childhood, we have been scared of the government (Myanmar), even my children are now scared.”
Muhammad Usman, 16, and his two brothers fled their home in Maungdaw District, Buthidaung Township, after last Tuesday when he said the military first blanket fired at his cousin’s house, Yasser Arafat, 25, killing him.
Usman said his family owned a successful business that sold groceries, fertilizer, and rice. Then last week, the Myanmar military with the assistance of Buddhist Rohingya pillaged their town, taking all his family’s assets.
Exhausted, but relieved, the 5 months pregnant, Hamida Shashita, 25, used the little money her family had left to get her family over the river. Shashita said her family carefully maneuvered landmines, planted by the Myanmar military, at every entrance point on the main route to reach the river.
“The Buddhist and Hindu were persecuting us and the Myanmar military would allow them, they would come with large knives to rob us and if we didn’t give up our possessions they would threaten to kill us,” said Shashita. They decided to leave their home 8 days ago after Sashita found her cousin Jafar, 35, decapitated body.
Most of the Rohingya refugees fleeing to Bangladesh will first check into the many relief centers set up around Teknaf, Cox’s Bazar.
At a relief center in Sabrang, Teknaf, Cox’s Bazar, Dr. Md Bipul Islam, from the local Teknaf Upazila Health Complex, said they are providing health care and resources for the Rohingya refugees alongside the Bangladesh military, UNHCR, WFP, Medicos Sin Fronteras and private donors hired by the Bangladesh Government.
Dr. Islam said, “Many of the refugees arrive here with injuries from the long journey, injured on the boat ride or while carrying heavy luggage, now and then we see bullet injuries.” Dr. Islam continued, “many children have arrived with malnutrition, diarrhea, and skin disease due to bad hygienic conditions.”
With the influx of Rohingya refugees over the last few weeks, Dr. Islam said that there are adequate resources at the relief centers, the initial point where the refugees arrive, but once inside the camps there is not enough to keep up with the growing population and demand.
The Rohingya refugees are provided soap, water, and food that include milk, rice, dough, biscuits, and dhal by the World Food Program. Private donors are distributing towels and
clothes and according to Muhammad Elias of UNHCR, they are supplying 4 x 5 m tarps to families so they can build shelters once they reach the camp.
The Rohingya refugees that make it to the refugee camps express relief, but their fully aware that their future is still up in the air as Bangladesh is faced with the largest refugee crisis in recent history.
October 16, 2017
By: Adnan Khan