Rohingya children: between exile and survival
Safe from the violence they experienced in Myanmar, the Rohingya people have encountered other serious problems in the Cox's Bazar camps in Bangladesh. Find out how Terre des hommes (Tdh) is helping to improve conditions for 55,000 children and their families.
In one of the tarpaulin and bamboo huts that form the huge maze of Kutupalong camp in the Cox's Bazar region of southern Bangladesh, Nour* cuddles her eight-month-old daughter, Ayesha*. One year ago, this 25-year-old woman was forced to flee her home in Myanmar. Exhausted after her journey, Nour gave birth to the little girl shortly upon arrival. She tells us, “Before being treated by Terre des hommes, Ayesha was thin, weak and very often ill.”
Borne through the terror, born in exile
Little Ayesha was born in the world's largest camp. More than 700,000 Rohingya refugees have joined the 200,000 people who had already been there for decades. Since August 2017, members of this Muslim minority from Burma's Rakhine State have been fleeing further persecution. Murder, rape, villages burnt to the ground: A damning UN report describes a genocide.
In one of Tdh's seven nutrition centres, Ayesha receives care and has regained a normal weight. Other mothers and babies file in, in critical condition. “Nearly 15% of the 450,000 refugee children suffer from severe malnutrition,” explains Iris Mariad, Tdh health project manager. Tdh’s nutrition centres have helped more than 20,000 children under five years of age and provided more than 1500 consultations for pregnant and breastfeeding women. The first thousand days of a child's life are crucial for their development. Nutritional deficiencies at this stage can have consequences, such as delayed growth and cognitive impairment. “Malnutrition makes children more vulnerable to disease as their immune systems can no longer protect them,” says Iris.
Heavy monsoon rains between June and September increase the risk of floods and epidemics such as cholera, making water unsafe. Preventing the spread of disease involves not only a fight against malnutrition, but also measures to improve hygiene and water quality. Tdh has therefore intensified its efforts to ensure access to drinking water by treating water sources with chlorine, as well as rehabilitating and maintaining latrines. Families are also made aware of hygiene measures. Our projects have covered the water, sanitation and hygiene needs of more than 30,000 refugees.
The monsoon season is over and there is some respite for the Rohingya families. There remain challenges to be overcome for their daily survival, psychological wounds to be healed, emerging tensions between host and refugee communities to be defused. Sakib Nazmul, a Tdh psychosocial coordinator of Bangladeshi origin notes there is frustration among people in his community: “The local population was very welcoming at first, but this area was already very poor before the crisis. Now, almost one million completely destitute people have settled here.” Our next base, in an area where both communities are living, aims to develop a sustainable approach and will offer support both to the Rohingya people and to Bangladeshis. Even though nobody expects the crisis to last forever, Nour does not want her daughter to grow up in a camp, “She needs somewhere permanent to live.” But like many Rohingya refugees, this young woman is still too terrified by what she has experienced and the risk of it all happening again to consider returning to Myanmar.
*Names have been changed to protect their privacy.
Photo credit: ©Tdh
In the world’s largest refugee camp in Bangladesh, Karim has recaptured some of his childhood and is able to dream again thanks to one of the Terre des hommes (Tdh) children’s spaces in Cox’s Bazar.
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