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Rohingya widows find a safe haven in the Bangladesh camp



COX & BAZAR (Reuters) – The pink and purple dawn tones reveal a dusty valley in the southern hills of Bangladesh padded with a dense red tent settlement home to more than 230 crying women and children for the loss of their husbands and fathers.

Roshid Jan, a Rohingya refugee who said she was unsure of her age, cries holding her son Muhammad Gyab in his shelter at the widows 'and orphans' camp inside the Balukhali camp near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh , on December 5, 201
7. Roshid Jan, who walked for 10 days with her five children to Bangladesh after soldiers burned her village, cried when she spoke about her missing husband. The religious leader in his Phansi village in the Rakhine state of Myanmar was accused of being a member of the Rohingya militants and arrested 11 months ago, he said. She had not seen or heard about her fate since then. Now she lives with her five children and more than 230 in the Rohingya widows and orphans camp. REUTERS / Damir Sagolj

They are among the more than 625,000 Rohingya Muslims who fled to Bangladesh since the end of August after an offensive by the Myanmar army in response to Rohingya militant attacks on security forces.

Roshid Jan, who walked for 10 days with her five children to Bangladesh after soldiers burned her village, cried when she spoke about her missing husband.

He was accused of being a member of the Rohingya militants and arrested with four other villagers 11 months ago, he said.

She had not seen or heard about her fate since then.

Aisha Begum, a 19-year-old widow, said her husband was killed by soldiers from Myanmar while his band of refugees headed to Bangladesh.

"I was sitting there next to his body and he just cried, cried, cried," he said.

"He was caught and killed with knives, I found his body next to the road, it was in three parts," he shouted, relating the events that took her to the camp.

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Most Rohingya are stateless and are seen as illegal immigrants by Myanmar's Buddhist majority.

The United Nations and the United States have described military actions as ethnic cleansing, and human rights groups have accused security forces of atrocities, including rapes, arson and murder.

The Myanmar government has denied most of the claims, and the army has said that its own investigation found no evidence of irregularities committed by the troops.

There are 50 tents and no men in the camp for widows and orphans, the largest of the three sites built with donor funds from Pakistan's Muslim majority in the Balukhali refugee settlement not far from the seaside resort of Cox & # 39 Bazaar in Bangladesh.

Two makeshift kitchens provide space for cooking in small holes in the ground, a new well is being dug to supplement a water pump, and a large tent is used for prayers.

A Rohingya refugee boy cries at the camp for widows and orphans inside the Balukhali camp near Cox's Bazaar, Bangladesh, on December 5, 2017. More than 230 women and children live in a widow camp built by fellow refugees with the help of donor funds for widows and Rohingya orphans to offer them better protection and shelter. REUTERS / Damir Sagolj

"For those who can not pray, we have learning sessions on Mondays and Fridays in a special room," said Suwa Leha, 20, who serves as the camp's unofficial leader.

Pray and read the Muslim holy book, the Koran, was one of the two conditions of admission established by religious and group leaders, Suwa said. The other was that widows and orphans were selected among the most vulnerable and needy.

The camp is abandoned in the midst of ponds and dirty water streams left behind by washing clothes and dishes. Behind are thousands of homes in a vast refugee camp that emerged during the crisis.

Still, women are relieved to have their own space.

"For those who have no protection, a camp like this is much safer," said Rabiya Khatun, 22, who lives there with her son. "No man can go that easy, and the rooms are bigger and we have more possibilities of receiving help."

Women and girls represent approximately 51 percent of the distressed and traumatized Rohingya population in the Cox & Balearic camps, the US women's agency said in October.

"Women and children are also at greater risk of becoming victims of trafficking in persons, sexual abuse or child and forced marriage," he added.

In general, women and adolescents between the ages of 13 and 20 who arrived from Myanmar had between two and four children each, and some of them were pregnant.

No relief agency officially runs the camp for widows and orphans, but help groups and people help.

Rihana Begum lives with her five children in a room that is empty, except for some tomatoes, some religious books and clothing. On a thin carpet lies her daughter, sick with a fever, but the fear of losing food leaflets keeps them away from the doctor.

"I am afraid of losing the distribution of aid, I can not afford to lose it," he said on the day the ration cards of the World Food Program were distributed in the camp.

This week, Myanmar said it was finalizing the terms of a joint working group with Bangladesh to begin the process of safe and voluntary return of Rohingya refugees within two months.

That may not be enough to calm Rihana Begum's fears.

"I'm so afraid of never going back to Myanmar," he said. "I'd rather die here"

Information from Damir Sagolj; Written by Clarence Fernandez; Edition by Darren Schuettler

Our standards: The principles of trust of Thomson Reuters.

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