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Hope endures as Rohingya remake their lives in Bangladesh

Refugees in camps deal with the trauma associated with their flight from Myanmar

Hope endures as Rohingya remake their lives in Bangladesh

Mukima Begum, a Rohingya mother with her eight-month-old baby boy at Kutupalong refugee camp on March 18. Her husband was shot dead by Myanmar military in mid-September while fleeing to Bangladesh from Rakhine State and she gave birth to her third child a week after crossing the border. (Photo by Stephan Uttom/ucanews.com)

When Mukima Begum reached a Bangladeshi refugee camp in September last year she was torn apart, both physically and psychologically.

The 25-year-old Rohingya Muslim widow has traumatic memories since she fled her village in the Maungdaw area of Myanmar's Rakhine State.

"We fled home empty-handed as the military raided our village and set houses on fire," Mukima said.

As she escaped across the Bangladesh-Myanmar border into Cox's Bazar, she had her two young children, aged eight and six. She was also nine-months pregnant.

"On the bank of the (Naf) river soldiers shot at us, and my husband died on the spot. I wanted to die too but I couldn't for my children," said Mukima.

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Within a week of being in overcrowded Kutupalong refugee camp, she managed to find a tiny space and set up a tent. Not long after that, she gave birth to her third child — a boy. She named him Afsar (Arabic for Crown).

During the first couple of months, Mukima's life in the camp was hard. She and her children had an irregular supply of food and they had very little in the way of clothing.

In the past eight months things have changed for the better in the camp, which is now a sanctuary for nearly 400,000 Rohingya refugees who fled various bouts of violence  by the military and mobs of local Buddhists in Myanmar.

Thanks to international and local aid groups, Mukima's family now has a shelter made of bamboo and tarpaulin that hopefully is strong enough to withstand rain and strong winds of the coming monsoon.

They have a food card provided by World Food Program which enables them to have a steady supply of food rations — 30 kilograms of rice, 10 kilograms of lentils, and oil. Sometimes, she is able to sell extra food in the local market allowing her to buy vegetables and other daily essentials for her family.

Clothing has been supplied to them by various aid groups and Mukima's children — Morshid and Sofaira — are now getting a basic education. They can also play at a child-friendly space not far from their makeshift home.

"At the beginning I had no hope for survival, but life is much better now," Mukima said. "We are happy to start a new life here again."

However, the trauma of what occurred and the reality of her situation continues to affect her.

"The military killed my innocent husband and I couldn't even arrange his funeral. I don't know if we can go back home again or should we be stuck here forever," she said.

"My children will grow up, and I wonder what identity they will have. I feel hopeless when I think about the future for myself and my children," she added.

Muhammad Zakaria, 25, a Rohingya father of three who was shot in the right leg by Myanmar soldiers as he was fleeing to Bangladesh in late September 2017. In this image Zakaria is in his makeshift house in Kutupalong refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar on March 18, 2018. (Photo by Stephan Uttom/ucanews.com)


Muhammad Zakaria, 25, arrived at Kutupalong camp at the end of September last year with his wife and three children. He was shot in the right leg by Myanmar soldiers while fleeing to Bangladesh.

At first, he and his family were unable to find a place in the camp and sheltered with relatives who had some space in the camp.

"Those first days were so painful that I thought we should have died on our way," said Zakaria.

Now, Zakaria and his family see new hope in their lives.

"We have a roof over the head, we get food supplies and we can also access medical facilities when needed," said Zakaria.

"We have lost everything back home but yet we have survived this ordeal," he said. "We have built our lives from the ashes and we thank Allah for what we have."

But like Mukima, he was concerned about his children's future.

"Throughout our lives, we endured persecution at home, but we always hoped things would get better and our children would have a good life," said Zakaria.

"I would like to go back to Myanmar again, so my children can go to school and they have a better life than ours," he said.

Mukima and Zakaria and their families are among the 770,000 plus Rohingya who have fled to Bangladesh following two brutal military crackdowns in Rakhine State.

The first was in October 2016 and the second in August 2017. Both followed Rohingya militant attacks on security forces. Some 300,000 Rohingya were already in Bangladesh fleeing earlier bouts of persecution.

Most of the Rohingya refugees live in 12 overcrowded camps in Cox's Bazar.

Mir Abdul Karim, assistant director of health at Bangladesh Red Crescent Society, told ucanews.com that the Rohingya have been remaking their lives in the camps.

"At the beginning their conditions were pathetic. We feared outbreaks of disease due to hunger and malnutrition, and mass death," said Karim. "Thanks to efforts from the government and aid groups, their conditions have changed," he said.

"Many Rohingya used to rely on begging to feed their families, we don't see that happening as much nowadays."

James Gomes, regional director of Caritas Chittagong also agreed, albeit cautiously.

"The government and NGOs have worked hard to make the lives of the Rohingya livable," Gomes told ucanews.com.

"The primary crisis has been tackled, but there is no way to be complacent," he said.  "Refugee life in the camps is a temporary solution to the crisis but the real solution lies in Myanmar from where they came," he said, referring a withheld plan for repartition of refugees back to Myanmar.

"The repatriation needs to take place and for this grounds must be prepared adequately. The Rohingya can have a truly better life if their identity and basic rights are recognized at their homeland," he added.

The Rohingya have lived in Rakhine for centuries but many in Myanmar consider them recent illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. They are denied citizenship and most basic rights. They have endured abuses and persecution by military-backed governments and local Buddhists for decades.

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