Across an international border, humanity in a lurch

AKM Moinuddin, back from Cox’s Bazaar
Thursday, September 14th, 2017

In this Sept. 5, 2017 file photo, members of Myanmar’s Rohingya ethnic minority walk through rice fields after crossing the border into Bangladesh near Cox’s Bazar’s Teknaf area. (AP/UNB Photo)


An expecting mother has to endure various difficulties during her pregnancy even if one remains at her undisturbed home. This suffering becomes far more painful where there is persecution. Who knows it better than Rohingyas women who are delivering premature babies?


Hasina Begum, 24, who fled her village seeking safety in Bangladesh, had never thought she would have to deliver a premature baby being caught in a sudden attack launched by Myanmar security forces on their village in North Maungdaw of Rakhine State.


“I can’t describe it to you. Your mother can feel the pain,” Hasina said hiding her face with her scarf and holding her newborn baby girl on her lap who did not get any chance to meet any doctor yet — neither for herself nor her baby.


Hasina, now a mother of two daughters and one son, says Myanmar security forces and Buddhists came to their village- Merullah – on August 26 morning.


“I was running desperately once we heard gunshots. I ran almost half an hour and took shelter to a nearby house. My baby was born minutes after I reached the house,” she narrated the most painful experience she ever had. She said she is going through various complications after the delivery of her third baby.


“We haven’t had a name for the girl yet. You better give one name,” Hasina said giving her smiling look at the little child whose future looks uncertain with no shelter for them yet.


“We just arrived yesterday (Saturday) in a boat,” Hasina said. “We aren’t alone. We’re around 50 people from the same village who entered Bangladesh in two boats.”


Abdul Hamid, father of the newborn baby girl, said they had to pay money to those who helped them get enter Bangladesh. “The entire village was set on fire. We could bring nothing,” Hamid said.


Responding to a question, he said, they have no plan to go back to their homeland as there is a fear of death. “It’s pointless to try to go back there. Nothing is left. Even we might get killed,” he said.


This correspondent saw a number of newborn babies, either born on the way to Bangladesh or in their villages before leaving for Bangladesh. Many babies were born after their mothers arrived in Bangladesh. Around 500 new arrivals on Sunday morning took shelter at Teknaf Upazila Awami League office and its surrounding places.


‘Nothing is left’


Abul Khashem lost his son Mohammed Ibrahim who came under the line of fire during military attacks on August 28. “I ran away to save my life. I saw my 15-year-old son sustain bullet wounds. I was so cruel to run away leaving my son behind,” he said showing his son’s photo ID.


Khashem feared that his son might have succumbed to wounds. “I don’t think I’ll get him back.”


“Our houses were torched. We had to wait for the last two nights to get a boat. Finally, we arrived here at 10am (Sunday) crossing the Naf,” said Sayedul Amin who came from Shilkhali village of Maungdaw township. While talking to this correspondent at Kanjapara point of Teknaf, he said they came with two boats in groups of seven and thirteen.


“We came here a day before yesterday. Our village Shilkhali is now burning,” Shahedur Rahman, 20, told Dhaka Courier at Unchiprang point of Teknaf Upazila.

On the way to Teknaf town, huge plumes of smoke could be seen in at least four places on the Myanmar side close to the border from 9am.


“Our village Shilkhali and adjacent villages are burning. It’s north of Maungdaw township,” Mohammed Tayeb, 20, said at Nayapara village of Teknaf.


Local authorities were struggling to manage traffic on Cox’s Bazar-Teknaf highway, especially in Kutupalong and Balukhali areas where two big camps exist. As the two camps have , new arrivals are crowding in roadside areas causing huge traffic congestions on the main road.


The movement of vehicles increased as many of those carrying relief materials are entering the areas from different parts of the country with regular aid vehicles. Rohingyas were seen running behind relief-laden vehicles mainly managed by individuals.


All too harrowing


Dildar Begum, a 30-year-old woman lost several members of her family, indeed all except one, fleeing the violence in Rakhine State.


“They (Myanmar forces and Buddhists) killed my two sons, husband and mother-in-law. It hurts us every moment,” Begum told our sister news agency UNB sitting beside her 10-year-old daughter Noor Kalima at Cox’s Bazar Sadar Hospital. Both suffered multiple injuries in their heads.


With grief and anguish, she said some Buddhists attacked her and her daughter with sharp knives after killing her two sons in presence of Myanmar security forces.


Begum, hailing from Boli Bazar in Maungdaw North, said she was not prepared to meet such a tragedy in any stage of life. The mother and daughter were admitted to the hospital on Friday, joining some other Rohingyas being treated there.


“We’ve lost everything…nothing is left. My house was burned down, forcing us to take a long painful journey to enter Bangladesh,” Begum says. On the same floor under Women and Children (Surgery Dept), Mohammed Haresh, a 13-month-old boy, was crying with 15 percent burn injuries.


“He is out of danger now,” says an on-duty doctor who was struggling to deal with so many patients – both locals and Rohingyas.


Aziza, an 11-year-old girl, is fighting for life with multiple bullet wounds in her chest, shoulder and right leg. She arrived in Bangladesh on Thursday and was admitted to Cox’s Bazar Sadar on Friday. “I suffered bullet wounds while taking a boat journey to enter Bangladesh through Naf,” Aziza said.


An on-duty doctor at the hospital said they will decide whether Aziza will be shifted to Chittagong Medical College Hospital for better treatment. “It’s a 250-bed hospital. Now we’re dealing with over 500 patients. We aren’t refusing any Rohingya patient,” he said.


At breaking point


Humanitarian agencies operating in Cox’s Bazar urgently need US$77 million to assist people who have fled violence in Rakhine as the Rohingya people in Cox’s Bazar tripled in last two weeks. Till September 11, over 313,000 people are believed to have crossed the border from Myanmar to Bangladesh.


The rapid movement of people across the border has put massive strain on the existing camps and settlements, and on the host communities who are supporting the new arrivals, said the UN office in Dhaka. Though new settlements have formed and are expanding rapidly, people there have little access to basic services.


The Response Plan, developed as a result of the influx people to Cox’s Bazar, outlines the life-saving support UN agencies and international NGOs are aiming to provide 300,000 people until the end of 2017.


Efforts by the government of Bangladesh to meet the needs of those who have crossed to Cox’s Bazar are already being supported by humanitarian agencies that are providing shelter, health, water and sanitation, food, nutrition, and education assistance, as well as support to ensure the safety and dignity of new arrivals.


The $77 million requested by the new plan will allow agencies to scale up their response to meet the rapidly growing needs of the new arrivals, said the UN.


The UN Resident Coordinator in Bangladesh, Robert Watkins, said, “With the movement of people showing no sign of stopping, it is vital that agencies working in Cox’s Bazar have the resources they need to provide emergency assistance to incredibly vulnerable people who have been forced to flee their homes and have arrived in Bangladesh with nothing.”


“Before this latest crisis agencies were already working on the ground, but the influx has overwhelmed the services that were in place. To support the new arrivals there is now an urgent need for 60,000 new shelters, as well as food, clean water and health services, including specialist mental health services and support for survivors of sexual violence.”


This correspondent saw many Rohingyas took shelter on both sides of the Cox’s Bazar- Teknaf highway, especially from Ukhiya to Teknaf. Many were seen cutting nearby hills to build shelters with bamboos and other materials.


Rohingyas in roadside areas were found desperate for food and shelters.


Desperate movements on highways put many Rohingyas children in risk of meeting road accidents. Rains at regular intervals have also mounted their sufferings.


“This is the most devastating thing I’ve ever seen in my life,” one 50-year-old man wishing to remain unnamed told UNB as he was distributing foods and clothes among the new arrivals.


“These people are exhausted. I just wonder how this brutality happens in this modern world,” he added before leaving the spot quickly keeping hundreds more people behind him who were also seeking help.


Many trucks and jeeps laden with relief materials were seen heading towards camps but locals say these are inadequate given the growing number of new arrivals every day. Amid a dramatic increase in the number of refugees fleeing violence in Myanmar’s Northern Rakhine state, UNHCR on Friday called for urgent actions to address the root causes of the recent surge in violence.


Our correspondent also visited zero point near Tombru in Ghumdhum under Bandarban district.


Some 14,000 people took shelter there and they are getting food and other services from Bangladesh side. “We’re allowing them to come to our side to collect drinking water,” said an on-duty BGB man.


Refugees are now squatting in makeshift shelters that have mushroomed along the road and on available land in the Ukhiya and Teknaf areas.


While most of Rohingya refugees arrive on foot, mostly walking through the jungle and mountains for several days, thousands are braving long and risky voyages across the rough seas of the Bay of Bengal.


They wait on the Myanmar border to take fishing boats to Teknaf in Bangladesh. And most of them are women, including mothers with newborn babies, families with children. They arrive in appalling condition, exhausted, hungry and desperate for shelter. Bangladesh can only do so much for them.

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