‘They shot her hus­band, and she car­ried her chil­dren on her back all the way to Bangladesh’

MORE THAN HALF A MIL­LION RO­HINGYA PEO­PLE HAVE FLED BRU­TAL PER­SE­CU­TION IN MYAN­MAR AND ARE NOW LIV­ING IN REFUGEE CAMPS IN BANGLADESH. HERE, THREE SCOT­TISH AID WORK­ERS EX­PLAIN HOW THE VALU­ABLE DO­NA­TIONS OF SUN­DAY HER­ALD READ­ERS ARE SAV­ING LIVES. WARN­ING: CON

Sunday Herald - - INSIDE STORY - By Hi­maya Quasem from Ac­tionAid

WOMEN and girls have very spe­cific needs and this is never more ev­i­dent than dur­ing a hu­man­i­tar­ian dis­as­ter. This is why Ac­tionAid has built a women’s Safe Space in Cox’s Bazar – a cen­tre where refugee moth­ers can breast­feed in pri­vate, women can re­ceive es­sen­tial sup­plies, emo­tional sup­port, and get med­i­cal at­ten­tion.

Dur­ing my week in Cox’s Bazar I vis­ited the Safe Space and spoke with women and girls who had fled their homes, to save their lives and those of their chil­dren.

One of the first women I met was 35-year-old Hasina. Dur­ing her es­cape from Myan­mar she had to carry her youngest chil­dren on her back. By the time she ar­rived in Bangladesh, she was so ex­hausted she col­lapsed.

She told me that her hus­band was shot while they were swim­ming across a canal to es­cape. Panic broke out as the at­tack­ers de­scended upon the vil­lages, and amid the chaos she couldn’t even look back to help him be­cause she had to save her chil­dren.

Hasina and her chil­dren are some of the many peo­ple helped by Ac­tionAid, through our camp coun­sel­lors like Fa­tima. She speaks a di­alect very sim­i­lar to that of the Ro­hingya peo­ple so she can lis­ten to their needs and help them ac­cess the ser­vices they need most.

One of the most press­ing needs iden­ti­fied was a pri­vate space, where women and girls could wash them­selves and their chil­dren with clean, safe wa­ter. Ac­tionAid has be­gun build­ing women-only show­ers and is now in the process of build­ing 50 so­lar-pow­ered women-only toi­lets. We are also dis­tribut­ing dig­nity kits, which in­clude san­i­tary pro­tec­tion, soap, a pair of san­dals, clean un­der­wear and a so­lar­pow­ered lamp.

It was dur­ing a dig­nity kit dis­tri­bu­tion that I met 12-year-old Moshina. She told me how her mother and fa­ther were shot dead in Myan­mar. She ar­rived at the camp a few weeks ago and now lives a handto-mouth ex­is­tence in a makeshift hut with her older sis­ter Ma­muna and 10-year-old sis­ter Shen­ina, who has learn­ing dif­fi­cul­ties.

Ma­muna ex­plained how she was sep­a­rated from her sis­ters dur­ing the vi­o­lence and then mirac­u­lously man­aged to find them at the camp. When she was re­united with them she said it felt like her “world had come back”.

Every­one here is ask­ing the same ques­tions. Will they get sent back to Myan­mar? Will they be safe? How will they sur­vive now their lives have been ripped apart?

For 35-year-old Sak­ina, th­ese ques­tions are com­pounded by the fact she has just given birth to a baby girl. Sak­ina went into labour just be­fore the vi­o­lence broke out

‘EVERY­ONE IS THINK­ING: WILL WE BE SENT BACK TO MYAN­MAR?’

and had to run with con­trac­tions, be­fore giv­ing birth on a wooden boat full of peo­ple. She named her lit­tle girl Nur Fa­tima, af­ter the boat­man who helped her when she lost con­scious­ness.

Tiny and mal­nour­ished, Nur Fa­tima and Sak­ina are now be­ing helped at Ac­tionAid’s Safe Space, where our trained mid­wife is giv­ing Sak­ina lots of ad­vice on how to boost Nur Fa­tima’s weight.

It was heart­break­ing hear­ing the atroc­i­ties ex­pe­ri­enced by the women and girls I met, but the world needs to hear their sto­ries and un­der­stand the chal­lenges they now face. They are afraid about what is go­ing to hap­pen next and they ur­gently need our help.

Pho­tographs: Kath­leen Prior

Hasina, 35, fled vi­o­lence in Myan­mar with her five chil­dren, in­clud­ing two dis­abled chil­dren Ru­bina and Omar. Her hus­band was shot dead as they tried to cross the wa­ter

Sak­ina, 35, with her six week old daugh­ter Noor Fatema

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