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Bangladesh - Anwara © Sébastien Duijndam
pour Action contre la Faim

Embedded

1 year after the Rohingya's exodus

They don’t want to live in fear anymore

Anwara Begum is 40 years old. She has had a fever for some days now. Yesterday she went to the hospital, seeking treatment. She hopes to get better quickly and that the deplorable sanitary conditions in which she lives will not cause an almost inevitable relapse to allow her some relief.

She invites us to sit down on the woven rug that barely covers the dirt floor. It is very dark and the acrid smoke that comes from the neighbours’ shelter causes a burning feeling in your throat. In the room, her daughter Mohsena, 20 years old, holds her son on her knees. It is Anwara’s first grandson: he was born three days before the family had to flee from Myanmar where they were suffering from violent acts committed against Rohingyas, an oppressed Muslim minority. « The soldiers killed my husband. They took him along with other men to a neighbouring school. I had just given birth tomyson. My husband never had the chance to see him » Mohsena tells us.

Here, the child does not have any status like the 700 000 people who fled last August. He is not a refugee, heis a ͞”Forcibly Displaced Myanmar National͟”, according to the Bangladeshi Government’s statement. Even in Myanmar, he does not exist either. The Rohingya people are stateless. They are not recognised as Burmese citizens.

Anwara readjusts the light veil that covers her hair. Behind, her sons and daughters have gathered to listen to their mother’s story. Some are seated in the adjoining recess that is used as a kitchen. When we ask her if she isat ease speaking in front of so many people around her, she gently smiles “we’ve been through it together” she answers before starting to tell her story.

Bangladesh - Anwara © Sébastien Duijndam
pour Action contre la Faim

« When we fled, we did not bring any food with us. Sometimes, on the way to the border, we passed through deserted villages. We went into empty houses where some food had been left. Apart from that, it was very difficult to feed ourselves. I remember one day in particular; during the whole day and night, we had no food or water. We were lost in the middle of nowhere without any houses nearby. The people were so hungry. »

The journey to the border took ten days, a real challenge for Mohsena, her eldest daughter who had just given birth. « I was barely able to move, I had not recovered from giving birth. It was a terrible time. I kept my son under my clothes, near to my skin to keep him warm and quiet. My scars were painful and my legs swollen. At one point, we had to cross a canal on foot. Because of the water, I caught an infection that took time to heal since I could not pay for any medicine. »

In the corner of the room, a small boy is babbling, trying to attract the attention of his mother. Ziqbul Haq is three years old, and is Anwara’s youngest child. He was barely two years old when they fled. “Near the border, the crowd was so dense and distraught that anymovement was unpredictable. Two ofmy children fell in a fish pond. Tosmin Ara, 6 years old and Ziqbul Haq 2 years old. I was so afraid, luckily some people from the region helped them out of the water with some fishing nets.” After having crossed the border, the first people who helped Anwara’s family were the Bangladeshi. She will never forget their solidarity and generosity.

"Ils nous ont accueillis alors que nous n’avions rien. Je me souviens aussi que c’est la première fois que j’ai connu Action contre la Faim."
Anwara
Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh

« We were given a hot meal. It was khichuri: made from rice, lentils, spices, and vegetables. »

The settlement in the camp was difficult. There was nothing when we arrived except the wooded hills that needed organising. The family lived for several weeks under a plastic tarpaulin tied between the trees before receiving the materials needed to build their current shelter. A slight improvement that does not make their life any easier though. Two of the children, one of them was Ziqbul, quickly fell into an undernourished state and were taken care ofby the Action Against Hunger healthcare centre.

Bangladesh - Anwara family © Sébastien Duijndam pour Action contre la Faim

© Sébastien Duijndam pour Action contre la Faim

Bangladesh - Anwara family © Sébastien Duijndam pour Action contre la Faim

© Sébastien Duijndam pour Action contre la Faim

Bangladesh - Anwara family © Sébastien Duijndam pour Action contre la Faim

© Sébastien Duijndam pour Action contre la Faim

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Besides, today is Ziqbul’s check-up. The child is officially no longer suffering from malnutrition but needs to be monitored. It is his elder sister, Nur Fatema, 10 years old, who takes him to the healthcare centre. With the little boy on her hip, she strolls through the labyrinth of shelters to join the road that surrounds the camp. The circulation is dense and the never-ending horns warn about the Bangladeshi army’s trucks quickly driving through, with the task of consolidating a new road through the camp and surrounding areas. Crossing the camp, the new road measures nearly 15 kilometres long. The camp extends as far as your eyes can see and reaches nearly 25 km which represents the total area of the town of Versailles.

 

Arrived at the centre, sister and brother wait on some mats that have been placed on the ground. The teams have set up a small television screen showing some cartoons. A short respite from their daily gloomy childhood. Ziqbul is examined by the nurses; weight, height, arm circumference, heart rate. Except a slight fever, the little boy is progressing well if one takes into consideration only physical criteria. After having picked up a ration of energy biscuits for her brother, Nur Fatema goes to the place where hot meals are being served. Community volunteers are giving out some plates ofkhichuri, the famous nutritional dish. Each day in the camp more than 11000 meals are provided. Before going back to their place, they stop in a play area that is run by the mental health and psychological support teams.

 

Purno Prova Thanchanggya is in charge of this area. “A year ago, the children were in a constant state of terror. ͞They would cling to their mothers’ clothes, hiding behind them. When we would give them a toy, they would sit quietly. They would just hold it close to them without playing with it. » When looking at the room where some twenty children are romping about happily, busy building coloured towers or astride the seesaw, it is difficult to imagine the place full of fear. « They are much better now, Purno Prova adds, they feel safe here. Even their drawings have changed, before they used to show villages in flames and dead people, now they draw happy things. » In parallel, during therapeutic sessions playing with the children, Purno Prova’s teams listen and counsel the mothers and those accompanying them on good hygiene practices and care. The undernourished children being looked after by the health centre like Ziqbul are given a massage and bath to reinforce the mother-child bond. If any trauma is detected, the people are referred to the three psychiatrists in the centre for personalised support.

Anwara Begum has also benefited from mental support and sessions with her children. « Last year, it was the peak of a year of terror. The attacks were recurrent. Our existence was being slowly poisoned. That night, when the dogs started to bark, we knew that they had arrived. The men ran away to hide and save their lives and the women huddled together for courage. After arriving in Bangladesh, it has taken me nearly a month and a half not to react to a barking. The psychological support has helped me overcome this fear so that I would be able to help the ones close to me »

"Chaque jour, je pense à mes enfants et à mes petits-enfants. Quelle vie auront-ils ?"
Anwara
Anwara
Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh

While her husband, Farid Alom, 55 years old, is sorting the vegetables in a wicker basket that heistotake to a market not far from here, Anwara contemplates the future. « The wordShanti means peace. Here, no oneis going to attack us. I feel free compared tomy life in Myanmar. But, as a mother, I feel desperate. Not a day goes by without me thinking ofmy children and my grandchildren. What kind of life awaits them? Itis a constant pain, a thought that isalways onmy mind. I have heard people saying that we could be relocated. The pain we have endured during our displacement and our settlement will be relived. We will have to start all over again without any certainty asto what isgoing to happen after that. Going back to our homeland ? Myanmar is not stable for us, our village has been destroyed. I do not want to live in fear again »

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