‘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
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.
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