Why they ran: Stories from the front lines of the Rohingya crisis

October 4, 2017
Written by Kieran McConville
Photo by Kieran McConville

In just the last few months, around half a million Rohingya Muslims have fled Myanmar seeking safety in Bangladesh. Concern’s Kieran McConville has been on the ground hearing their stories.

Since August 25, more than 625,000 Rohingya have fled brutal violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, crossing the border into Bangladesh. The journey is difficult — though the distance is relatively small, many of those fleeing are children, elderly, or injured. Even those in good health often arrive traumatized by the things they have seen.

“They were shooting at us and dropping bombs from a helicopter,” says Rama. “People were beheaded.”

Concern has been working with the Bangladesh government and other partners to provide food, water, shelter, and medical support. Concern’s Kieran McConville has been in Cox’s Bazar covering our response and speaking to recent arrivals. These are three of their stories.

Note: all names have been changed for security

Shaju

Thirty-year-old Shaju gave birth to her eighth and youngest child, Noor, just after she arrived in Cox’s Bazar.

Shaju (not her real name) (30) with her day-old daughter, Noor

Shaju with her day-old daughter, Noor. Photo: Kieran McConville

Violence forced Shaju and her husband to flee their village, despite the fact she was heavily pregnant. “My brother-in-law was ahead of us when they caught him,” she says. “He was brutally killed — we found his body.”

Shaju says there is nothing to go back home to. “Everything has been burned.”

It took them three days to reach the Hakim Para settlement where her family now stays. Open defecation is common here, malnutrition levels are high, and the water and sanitation facilities are under pressure. But Shaju says there is nothing to go back home to. “Everything has been burned,” she explains.

Despite the hardship she’s facing, Shaju is grateful her family found safety. “Now I am at peace,” she says. “There was killing and fighting over there — here we have peace.”

Amir

Amir, a Rohingya refugee

Amir, 24, suffered a bullet wound when fleeing violence in his village in Myanmar. Photo: Kieran McConville

“I was inside my home when they came,” Amir said. “They came through the village, shooting and setting fire to houses.”

Amir’s two young children, a boy and a girl, were killed in the fighting. His parents were also killed and he lost his wife in the chaos and he hasn’t seen her since.

“I feel nothing.”

The 24-year-old reached Cox’s Bazar alone, having walked four or five days with a bullet wound in his leg. He has received treatment for his injury, but he remains visibly traumatized.

“I feel nothing,” he says. “I have no news from any of my other relatives. I have no money and no rice.”

Amir relies on the kindness of strangers. Other people in the camp let him share their shelter and sometimes give him food. Often he goes hungry.

Rama

Rama and her husband, Abu Sayed, reached Cox’s Bazar with their son Habiron after making a nearly 30-mile journey to Bangladesh on foot.

Rama (not her real name) with her 18 month old son, Habiron (not his real name)

Rama with her Eighteen-month-old son, Habiron. Photo: Kieran McConville

The family ran for their lives after witnessing intense violence in their home village in Myanmar.

“They were shooting at us and dropping bombs from a helicopter,” says Rama. “People were beheaded.” Her mother suffered a bullet wound in her arm. As they fled, they saw their village burning behind them.

Though Rama and her family arrived safely in Bangladesh, they have nothing but the clothes they are wearing, a few phones, and a small amount of cash. A local landowner agreed to let them use a small patch of land and helped them build a crude shelter from bamboo and black plastic. Inside, the temperature reaches well over one hundred degrees.

Rama and Abu Sayed hope they can one day return home — “as long as we can be left in peace.”

Rama says the Bangladeshis have been very generous, and she has received gifts of clothes, cash, and food. But the family is struggling and Rama is forced to beg for money on the side of the road so she can pay her monthly rent (around $2.50).

Food is also extremely limited. “At home we would eat three meals a day — here, we have a very small amount twice a day.”

Eighteen-month-old Habiron has become sick with fever and diarrhea. Rama’s closest water source is a pond of still green water and she worries it’s making her family sick.

Despite all they’ve experienced, Rama and Abu Sayed hope they can one day return home — “as long as we can be left in peace.”


Concern’s response

Concern has been working in Bangladesh since 1972 and swiftly ramped up its response to meet the needs of recent Rohingya arrivals. We’re targeting four camps in the Bay of Bengal, focusing initially on providing food and emergency nutrition to children and pregnant or breastfeeding women. So far, we have screened over 35,000 children, and referred 2,500 for severe acute malnutrition treatment, and almost 9,000 for medium acute malnutrition. We have also counselled over 10,000 pregnant women and new mothers in infant feeding practices to empower them to prevent malnutrition where possible.

Our team has been working with partners, the armed forces, and local administration to identify those most in need of emergency hygiene kits, sleeping mats, blankets and household items. We will begin delivery to 5,000 families in three camps in the coming weeks. You can help: