Alone and vul­ner­a­ble

Ro­hingya chil­dren who fled to Bangladesh on their own risk ex­plota­tion and abuse.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Family -

THE lost Ro­hingya boy made the jour­ney from Myan­mar alone, fol­low­ing strangers from other vil­lages across rivers and jun­gle un­til they reached Bangladesh, where he had no fam­ily and no idea where to go.

“Some women in the group asked, ‘Where are your par­ents?’ I said I didn’t know where they were,” said Ab­dul Aziz, a 10-year-old whose name has been changed to pro­tect his iden­tity.

“A woman said, ‘We’ll look af­ter you like our own child, come along’. Af­ter that, I went with them.”

More than 1,100 Ro­hingya chil­dren flee­ing vi­o­lence in western Myan­mar have ar­rived alone in Bangladesh since Aug 25, ac­cord­ing to the lat­est Unicef fig­ures.

These solo chil­dren are at risk of sex­ual abuse, hu­man traf­fick­ing and psy­cho­log­i­cal trauma, the UN chil­dren’s agency said.

Many have seen fam­ily mem­bers bru­tally killed in vil­lage mas­sacres in Rakhine state, where the Myan­mar army and Bud­dhist mobs have been ac­cused of crimes de­scribed by the UN rights chief as “eth­nic cleans­ing”.

Oth­ers nar­rowly es­caped with their own lives – some chil­dren ar­riv­ing in Bangladesh bear shrap­nel and bul­let wounds.

The num­ber of chil­dren who crossed into Bangladesh alone, or were split up from fam­ily along the way is ex­pected to climb as more cases are dis­cov­ered.

More than half of the 370,000 Ro­hingya Mus­lims who have made it to Bangladesh since Aug 25 are mi­nors, ac­cord­ing to UN es­ti­mates.

A sam­ple of 128,000 new ar­rivals con­ducted in early Septem­ber across five dif­fer­ent camps, found 60% were chil­dren, in­clud­ing 12,000 un­der one year of age.

This pre­sents a nee­dle in a haystack sce­nario for child pro­tec­tion of­fi­cers try­ing to find un­ac­com­pa­nied mi­nors in sprawl­ing refugee camps, where tod­dlers roam naked, chil­dren sleep out­doors and in­fants play alone in filthy water.

“This is a big con­cern. These chil­dren need ex­tra sup­port and help be­ing re­united with fam­ily mem­bers,” Save the Chil­dren’s hu­man­i­tar­ian ex­pert Ge­orge Graham said in a state­ment.

“At first they don’t talk, don’t eat, don’t play. They just sit still, star­ing a lot,” said Moazzem Hos­sain, a project man­ager with Bangladeshi char­ity BRAC at a child-friendly space they run in part­ner­ship with Unicef at the Ku­tu­pa­long refugee camp.

There are 41 of these safe zones across Bangladesh’s ever-ex­pand­ing network of refugee camps.

Every day chil­dren, some car­ry­ing younger sib­lings, flock to the sim­ple wooden huts for ac­tiv­i­ties like singing, play­ing with toys and blocks and skip­ping ropes.

It is a wel­come dis­trac­tion from the mis­ery out­side, where mon­soon rain turns the camp into a quag­mire and ex­hausted refugees com­pete for dwin­dling food and space.

But play­time also al­lows staff to reg­is­ter de­tails about a child’s back­ground, mon­i­tor new­com­ers and keep an eye out for the tell­tale signs of a child on their own.

One such young­ster was 12-year-old Mo­ham­mad Ramiz, who found him­self alone af­ter flee­ing his vil­lage and tagged along with a group of adults.

“There was a lot of vi­o­lence go­ing on, so I crossed the river with oth­ers,” said Ramiz, not his real name.

“I ate leaves from the tree, and drank water to sur­vive.”

There are fears the vul­ner­a­ble mi­nors could be ex­ploited if left un­su­per­vised in the camps, said Unicef Geneva spokesman Christophe Boulierac. Girls are par­tic­u­larly at risk of be­ing lured into child mar­riages, or traf­ficked to red-light dis­tricts in big cities where they are forced into pros­ti­tu­tion and abused, he added.

But the fa­cil­i­ties for refugee chil­dren are vastly over­stretched.

Over just two days, 2,000 chil­dren came through a sin­gle ‘safe space’ in Ku­tu­pa­long, lit­tle larger than a class­room with just a few staff on hand.

Thirty five un­ac­com­pa­nied mi­nors were iden­ti­fied over that pe­riod, Boulierac said, but more re­sources were needed to en­sure oth­ers did not slip through the cracks.

“The faster we act, the more chance we have of find­ing their fam­ily.

“The most im­por­tant thing is to pro­tect them be­cause un­ac­com­pa­nied chil­dren, sep­a­rated chil­dren, are par­tic­u­larly vul­ner­a­ble and in dan­ger,” he said. – AFP


Ro­hingya chil­dren refugees find so­lace in safe zones in camps as hu­man­i­tar­ian work­ers scram­ble to iden­tify un­ac­com­pa­nied ones for fear they might be ex­ploited.

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