Thousands of Rohingya are fleeing to Bangladesh to escape a recent military crackdown in Myanmar that includes burning villages. The Rohingya are members of a persecuted Muslim minority in majority-Buddhist Myanmar. Not recognized as Myanmar citizens, they are stateless.
The desperate refugees arrive at a rate of 20,000 a day on foot and in boats, pushed out by the surge in violence. “For 4 days, I hid myself in the forest. Then, we tried to walk to the border. I was so scared,” says Rajida Begum, a 30-year-old mother who fled her village with neighbors when she was 9 months pregnant. She gave birth to a baby girl under a piece of plastic sheeting in the middle of a rice paddy 5 days after arriving in Bangladesh. As she cradled her newborn baby, she looked relieved: “When I saw that she was healthy, I was so happy. I gave thanks to God.”
“For 4 days, I hid myself in the forest. Then, we tried to walk to the border. I was so scared,” says Rajida Begum, a 30-year-old mother who fled her village with neighbors when she was 9 months pregnant.
The humanitarian crisis is overwhelming existing refugee camps, forcing many of the families to live in makeshift shelters—tents of bamboo and plastic constructed along roadways or on hillsides. Others are living with the Rohingya families who were already in Bangladesh.
“Most of the new arrivals are in dire need of food, water and shelter,” says Deepti Pant, CRS country manager in Bangladesh. “Few have any resources, having spent all their savings traveling across the border and meeting some of their basic needs along the way.”
The aid that CRS and Caritas Bangladesh are providing includes a 2-week supply of food—rice, lentils, sugar, salt and vegetable oil—as well as cooking equipment and other household items for 5,300 displaced families, reaching a total of more than 26,000 people. Caritas is coordinating with the local government as well as U.N. agencies and other humanitarian groups to distribute these relief items.
But Deepti says the emergency need is far greater, including access to safe drinking water, proper sanitation and health care, and security in the overcrowded and disorganized refugee camps.
Abdul Rahman, 21, who lost his wife in the violence, now is the sole caregiver for his 4-month-old daughter. “The baby won’t stop crying. I’m asking lactating mothers to help with feeding her, but I’m so worried. I don’t know if she will survive. We have no food. We have nothing at all,” he says.
“The baby won’t stop crying… I don’t know if she will survive. We have no food. We have nothing at all,” says a 21-year old father whose wife was shot dead by the Burmese army.
The foreign minister of Bangladesh has appealed to the United Nations and the international humanitarian community to support the government in assisting the new arrivals. After visiting the affected areas on Sept. 12, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina says that her country would offer temporary shelter and aid to the people in need, including setting aside 2,000 acres for a new refugee camp. Many international organizations are now seeking the required approval from the government of Bangladesh to begin responding to the crisis.
By Michael Hill/CRS