Malaysiakini News

A Rohingya woman's story as a refugee in Bangladesh

Cecilia Jeyanthi Victor, Bernama  |  Published:  |  Modified:

Ramadan is the holy month that puts to test one's willpower in fulfilling the third pillar of Islam, where Muslims fast from dawn to dusk. However, for people like Aminah Katum, 45, a Rohingya, the battle for survival too continues through the holy month.

Aminah is among the thousands of Rohingya refugees who have ended up at the refugee camps in Bangladesh's Cox Bazar district after fleeing from Myanmar’s Rakhine state following an ethnic cleansing episode there, by Myanmar's military junta.

As the Rohingya are Muslims, Ramadan has brought added challenges in fulfilling their religious obligations especially when they have no place to call as their homeland and have to live under severe constraints in refugee camps.

Aminah and her family literally live hands to mouth but as a woman, she feels safer at the camps than at home back in Myanmar.

“I’m glad to escape the madness in Myanmar, I was injured on my head after being shot at by the Myanmar army as I was leaving my village, so when I arrived at the border between Myanmar and Bangladesh I sought the help from doctors.

“I feel safe here, as a woman this place is safe for me and my family,” said Aminah to Bernama who lives with her family of ten in a small hut-like abode at the Hakimpara refugee camp located in Ukhia district, a half-an-hour drive from Cox Bazar.

The limitations at refugee camps

Lack of food, proper housing, clean water and sanitation have been a major setback for Aminah and her compatriots at the camps in observing fast during the holy month.

“I’m grateful to Allah that we have food now, thanks to aid workers and the Bangladeshi government, yet some days food is hard to come by,” said Aminah who owned a betel nut farm back in Myanmar but was forced to flee after the army burnt down her home and farm.

Aminah who lives at the camp with her husband, daughter and son-in-law, alongside other children and relatives, said the present tent like camps are no way to live in comfort. “The rainy season is on its way and I am worried my tent will be flooded,” added Aminah who has been living under the tent in Hakimpara for the last eight months.

While on the ground observing the lives of the Rohingya people at the camp, this writer could not help but notice trucks carrying loads of bamboo.

Later did the writer learn these bamboos were actually to be used by the Rohingya people to build homes. However, will these bamboo homes be able to provide better shelter than the tents for the Rohingyas, especially with the impending monsoon season where cyclones can hit the country anytime between March and July, causing major floods and landslides?

Fareesa looks forward to Eid

In a queue waiting for Ramadan food distribution by Malaysian NGO, Mercy Malaysia, a little girl was seen with Aminah. She was her daughter, Fareesa Bibi. One could tell by just looking at this child that she had gone through a great ordeal that robbed her of her childhood.

Asked if she recalled anything of Myanmar, seven-year-old Fareesa could only stare at the writer blank in the eye. To cheer her up and to get her talking to me, I then asked her if she was going to school to which she nodded aye.

Through a translator, I was told that Fareesa was attending a Madrasah (religious school) specially set up for children of Rohingya refugees in the camp.

Like every other child at the camp, the mention of the Eid Mubarak celebrations managed to bring a glimpse of cheer to this child.

“I am hoping to get some new clothing,” said Fareesa who was very sick when she first arrived at the camp. She slowly recovered and gained her strength, thanks to the medical relief services and food aid distribution by the various NGOs both international and local.

Mercy Malaysia had on June 26 distributed 30kg of Rice, 5kg of lentils, five litres of vegetable oil, 5kg of beans, 10kg of potatoes, 5kg of onions, 2kg of biscuits and 1kg each of spices, sugar and salt to each refugee families in Hakimpara.

The distribution of the goods sponsored by Maybank was carried out in collaboration with Dhaka Community Hospital (DCH).

Swarms of refugees, including Aminah and Fareesa, came over upon hearing of the aid to be distributed by Mercy. It was overwhelming to see hundreds of Rohingya refugees who made their way across the camp to receive the aid.

-- Bernama

This is part one of the two-part series on the Rohingya refugees at the Hakimpara refugee camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh.

The writer who accompanied non-governmental organisation (NGO) MERCY Malaysia took a closer look at the plight of the Rohingya including a woman who felt safer staying at the camp.

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