For Rohingya, escaping to Bangladesh poses new challenges
UN reports that more than half a million people have sought sanctuary
Violence in Rakhine state, Myanmar, that began in late August has led to a massive flow of Muslim Rohingya refugees into neighbouring Bangladesh.
The United Nations reported that as of Sept. 27, more than half a million people had sought sanctuary in and around the Bangladeshi city of Cox's Bazar.
An exhausting journey
The journey on foot is hard enough for adults, never mind children. Exhausted parents carry them for hours on treks that can last as long as two weeks.
Residents near the Bangladeshi village of Anzuman Para said the flow of Rohingya continues day and night.
Everything is difficult — from crossing the border to dealing with the incredible heat.
All that they can carry
Everyone carries what they can, including family. Twenty-three-year-old Rohzal Ali said that after Myanmar police and military burned his village, he and his family hid in the bushes for a week, eating nothing but leaves and the edible stems from banana trees. He then carried his disabled uncle for eight days into a new life as refugees in Bangladesh.
Just after crossing the border into Bangladesh, Din Mohammad broke down in tears. He talked about the gunfire that erupted in his Rohingya village before his father was ordered out of their home — and had his throat slashed.
The World Food Programme runs a large distribution centre in the sprawling camps that have become home to the Rohingya refugees. People line up by the thousands before sunrise for their chance to get just one sack of rice. WFP calls their work feeding mostly penniless refugees "a mammoth task."
Thangkhali camp is one of several new settlements in the Bangladesh-Myanmar border region. It sprung up after the influx of Rohingya refugees began in late August. Leaky huts atop muddy hills that spring up out of rice fields seem precarious at best, and a worry for the more than 24,000 refugees who call this camp home (for now).
Among the possessions some refugees manage to carry across the border are solar panels. They are precious, as they are often the only means to get power to light a bulb or charge a phone.
Many, many children
About a quarter of all the newly arrived Rohingya refugees are school-aged children.
In all, there are about a quarter of a million children among the refugees — the majority of them under the age of five.
After the first line-up, refugees are sent into a tent in small groups to have their claim verified by aid workers. Each recipient is entitled to a 25-kilogram bag of rice, and they're only to receive a ration every two weeks. Often, it's not enough.
Government health workers provide immunization against measles, rubella and polio. They also give vitamin A drops to refugee children, who are often malnourished. UNICEF provides all the syringes and vaccines as part of a mass vaccination campaign that started in mid-September. Diseases like polio are a big concern in Bangladesh, because the country has been polio-free and authorities want to keep it that way.
Medical attention for the desperate
The Rohingya health unit at a public hospital in the city of Cox's Bazar is where you end up for treatment if you can't afford anything better. Patients must buy their own medicine and food. There is no air conditioning to alleviate the relentless heat, which means parents often end up fanning their sick children.
Beds are not always available at the Rohingya unit hospital, so many people end up on dirty sheets on the tiled floor. It's an uncomfortable existence and yet, even when discharged, some people end up staying longer because it's preferable to the squalor of tent life in the camps.
Sanowara Begun, an 18-year-old mother of three, suffered five shrapnel wounds in the violence that overtook her village. It took eight days to arrive in Bangladesh. She has been sleeping on a dirty sheet in the hallway of a hospital, along with her child, who is suffering from a rash from being held tight against her during the journey. Her husband had gone out to buy an IV.
On Sept. 28, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said the situation had turned into the "world's fastest-developing refugee emergency, a humanitarian and human rights nightmare."