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A wife without a husband, a child without a home

The mood at refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar is made heavy by the grief of hundreds of widows struggling for survival

A wife without a husband, a child without a home

Farida Begum, 20, who lost her husband to military gun fire in late August at Buthidaung, Rakhine state in Myanmar. She became separated from her nine siblings on the way to Bangladesh and now lives in Balukhali refugee camp with her two-month-old baby boy.

Stephan Uttom, Cox’s Bazar, and Rock Ronald Rozario, Dhaka
Bangladesh

October 17, 2017

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On a rainy morning in late September, Mukima Begum, 25, leans against a tree and clutches her 14-day-old baby boy in the Cox’s Bazar district of Bangladesh. 

She is at Kutupalong refugee camp, which houses some of the hundreds of thousands of Muslim Rohingya who have fled ethnic strife in Myanmar’s Rakhine State since late August.

Mukima lives under a polythene shelter that is open on two sides

Frail, frightened and anxious, she glances at her yet-to-be-named baby.

The child was born in Cox’s Bazar, three days after she crossed the border into Bangladesh from her Maungdaw Township home in Myanmar.

Maungdaw Township sits near the Naf River beneath lush green hills.

Mukima sobs while telling how, in the first week of September, raiding Myanmar soldiers set the community’s houses alight.

Her husband, Rashid Ahmed, 30, grabbed pregnant Mukima and their two children and headed for the Bangladesh border.

 

Mukima Begum, 25, a Rohingya mother of three seen with her baby at a tent at Kutupalong, Cox’s Bazar district in late September. (ucanews.com photo) 

 

But on the riverbank the military fired at her and other fleeing civilians.

Dozens of people, including Rashid, were shot dead. 

Mukima cried and did not want to leave her husband’s body, but companions insisted she try and stay alive for her children. 

"I couldn’t give him a burial, and this pain will haunt me forever," Mukima said.

Mukima added that her life is now a saga of pain and shattered dreams.

"My mother died while giving birth to me and my poor farmer father married me off at the age of 13 even though I wanted to go to school," she recalled.

Mukima worries about what the future holds.

"As I cannot move out of the camp, my 7-year-old son goes to the street with his 4-year-old sister to get aid and to beg alms," she said.

Her son had been a good student.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s government in Myanmar has said Rohingya who fled to Bangladesh will be repatriated soon.

However, Mukima doubts whether she and her children will ever return to Myanmar’s Rakhine State.

The family’s home was burned, along with all their belongings, and she has no documentary proof of where she lived.

As her new baby was born in Bangladesh, it is difficult to know what country he belongs to.

Another refugee, Farida Begum, 20, who is not related to Mukima, gave birth to a baby boy in late July at her home at Buthidaung in Rakhine State.

Her husband Ebayedullah was shot dead by the military as he went to herd cows, days after Rohingya militants in late August attacked Myanmar security checkpoints.

"The military was patrolling the area and they shot indiscriminately, so I too had to flee and leave my husband’s body behind," Farida said.

She fled to Bangladesh in mid-September — evading military patrols by hiding in hills and forests — and now resides at Balukhali refugee camp.

On the way from Myanmar, she became separated from her nine siblings, whom she now looks for almost every day in the sprawling refugee camps of Cox’s Bazar.

She complained that the Myanmar government is driving peace-loving Rohingya out of Myanmar because of the "wrongdoings" of some Rohingya militants.

The mood at the refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar is made heavy by the grief of hundreds of Rohingya widows such as Mukima and Farida.

"My future as well as the future of my children is full of darkness," Mukima said.

She added that the people, military and government of Myanmar hated Rohingya and did not want them to return.

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