“Dusk was falling and people were returning home from the fields in the village of Tongbazar of Maungdaw. Suddenly there was the sound of gunfire. Fire burst up here and there. People began to flee, saying the Myanmar army had started to open fire and was setting fire to homes there. Hundreds of people were simply running in fear and we decided to flee too. Then we heard an infant crying. It had apparently been abandoned and my wife insisted we take the baby along with us. When we reached Bangladesh, one of the camp workers told us to name the baby girl Rabeya. It was the name of a saint.”
Standing at the Balukhali-2 camp for unregistered Rohingyas in Ukhia, Cox’s Bazar, Elam Bahar recounted the atrocities of the Myanmar army on 12 September in his village.
Wiping his tears, he said the government was reportedly setting up a home for the orphaned Rohingya children, but he wouldn’t send Rabeya there. They would bring her up along with their two other children. His wife, standing by his side, agreed.
Rabeya may have found a family and refuge, but many children who have fled Myanmar have not been so fortunate. They are not on the camp lists as they are not with any family. They are not even allocated any relief.
A list of these children without any families is being drawn up, said the deputy director of the Cox’s Bazar social welfare office, Pritom Kumar Chowdhury. So far 6766 have been enlisted, though he feels the number will probably exceed 12,000.
During visits to the various camps over the past eight days, the camp residents spoke of many such children. On Saturday we talked to seven such children at the Balukhali 1 camp. They have all been orphaned and mention of their parents brings tears to their eyes.
Zainab is playing in a muddy puddle at the Balukhali camp. She says that the army men came to their home one night in a village next to Maungdaw and shot her mother and father they threw their bodies into the river Naf.
Tears streaming down her face, Zainab said she misses her mother and father. “How will I live without my mother and father?” she cries. She recalls show she simply fled along with everyone else in the morning.
Asma Begum is eight years old and is from the village Naichhapru in the Rakhine state. She said the army men came and shot her father dead one night.
When her mother tried to protest, they killed her too. In the morning she came away with a neighbouring grandmother. The grandmother, Maksuda Khatun, said Asma constantly cries for her parents.
Prothom Alo’s Teknaf correspondent Gias Uddin talked to orphaned Mohammed Zaker at the Leda camp in Teknaf. Mohammed Zaker said on 25 August, army personnel came and took away 27 persons of their village in Gajarbil of Maungdaw. The next day the soldiers left Zaker’s father’s dead body there.
A report of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) states that 53 per cent of the Rohingyas coming from Myanmar are women and children.
According to the Cox’s Bazar administration, the number of Rohingyas there at present is 550,000. That would mean the number of women and children is 291,500. And of them, children under 5 years of age are 159,500 in number.
Of then, 82 thousand are girls. IOM has said primarily they have identified 1,500 children as being without any guardians, but this number will increase.
A children’s village for the orphans fleeing from Myanmar will be set up on 200 acres of land in Balukhali, Ukhia, according to the Cox’s Bazar deputy commissioner’s officer. This village for orphans will be set up by the social welfare ministry.
A worker of an NGO dealing with the orphans said that many of these children were mentally disturbed. Some of them were behaving abnormally. It was imperative for them to be removed from the camps and sheltered elsewhere.
*The article is rewritten in English by Ayesha Kabir