Rohingya Refugees: New Life, Last Rites in Bangladesh

Photo by Mahmud Raman for CRS/Caritas Bangladesh

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“We had to swim across two or three canals in neck-high waters … so deep I couldn’t touch the bottom. I gave my children sweets to keep them quiet. I warned them, if you cry, they will come and kill us.”

-Dildar Begun, Rohingya refugee in Moynarghona Camp Bangladesh.

 

Rohingya refugee recounts harrowing journey

Dildar Begun shows how she carried 2 of her children—Yasin, 11, and Johana Bibi, 2—during their journey from Myanmar to Bangladesh. They crossed deep rivers and streams. Her mother stands behind her.

Photo by Mahmud Rahman for CRS/Caritas Bangladesh

 

Dildar describes fleeing her home in Myanmar after receiving a warning call from her cousin, Shetara, when attacks besieged her cousin’s town. What neither of them could know was that, during their arduous journeys to Bangladesh, one would encounter new life, while the other would lay a life to rest. They sit next to each other as they tell their story.

Shetara escaped attacks in her village with Dildar’s pregnant sister, Senowara. Senowara was far along in her pregnancy when they found themselves on a small boat crossing the Naf River into Bangladesh after days of exhaustive travel. With her cousin’s increasing pains, Shetara, a midwife, knew they were only hours away from delivery.

“I knew the baby was coming and I was frightened. When Senowara said she was feeling more pain, I told her that she needed to rest immediately, that the baby was going to come in 2 hours,” says Shetara.

 

Rohingya refugee mother and children in Blanglaesh

Senowara and her newborn, Qurban, now live in a tent in Moynarghona Camp. She delivered him outside, just 2 hours after crossing the border.

Photo by Mahmud Rahman for CRS/Caritas Bangladesh

 

The attacks they fled, carried out across Rakhine State, are reportedly targeting the Muslim minority population there. Violence has escalated in recent months, with more than 600,000 people fleeing to Bangladesh since August. Many describe facing horrific torture and have lost loved ones, including children.

For Shetara and Senowara, they focused on getting somewhere quickly so they could safely welcome a new member of the family. They made it to the Bangladeshi border without incident but, an hour and a half after they arrived, there was no more time.

“We had to find a place,” says Shetara.                                                                                       

Passing by a villager’s home, they asked for help.

“We found a place outside someone’s home, and people nearby offered tarps that are normally used for making salt. I got the tarps ready in a spot outside, along with some hot water. I tried to make it as private as possible, but we were outside and it was a very difficult setting. But, there, I delivered her son. I didn’t have any blade or anything so I found a bamboo strip and I sharpened it so that I would be able to cut the cord. I wish I could have had a needle, thread, gloves, bandages, cloth, soap and a towel, but I didn’t have any of those things,” she says.

 

Rohingya mother and daughter in Bangladesh

Shetara, a midwife, sits with her 5-year-old daughter. “When I see a new life come into the world, I feel very joyful. It is a gift from God to bring a life into the world,” she says.

Photo by Mahmud Rahman for CRS/Caritas Bangladesh

 

Senowara’s son was healthy, but the new mother was struggling with the experience. More than the pain, she says, she was overwhelmed with a sense of shame.

“The delivery of a baby should be inside, but this was outside, and we just had tarps to create our place. So, people were looking in between the tarps. I was so embarrassed,” says Senowara. “At least having my cousin with me, I was less afraid. But I was screaming a lot. And we didn’t have proper bandaging, so I bled through my clothes for the next 2 days. It was deeply shameful.” 

 

“Our cousin was killed because she was pregnant. She couldn’t run fast enough. She wouldn’t leave without getting her son out of the house. They first poured the gas, and then they lit her house on fire. They died there together. I cry for them both, but so much for her son because I took care of   him regularly. I delivered him. I named him. I still dream of him.”

- Shetara, a Rohingya refugee in Bangladesh

 

Shetara and Senowara are now at Moynarghorna Camp with their extended family, including Dildar, and they live in adjacent tents. They have received food rations—lentils, cooking oil, salt and sugar—from Catholic Relief Services’ local partner, Caritas Bangladesh, which is providing food and other relief for 68,000 refugees across the crowded camps.

They have been at the camp since August. Camps for refugees near the Bangladesh border have grown significantly in the past few months. From one tent to the next, families share harrowing stories of escaping violence.

Shetara breaks down as she talks about what happened back home in Huwaikong.

“Our cousin was killed because she was pregnant. She couldn’t run fast enough. She wouldn’t leave without getting her son out of the house. They first poured the gas, and then they lit her house on fire. They died there together. I cry for them both, but so much for her son because I took care of   him regularly. I delivered him. I named him. I still dream of him,” she says.

 

Rohingya refugess at Bangladesh border

At Shabrang Harbor in Teknaf, at the Bangladesh border, newly arrived refugees from Myanmar carry all they have as they wait to register as refugees.

Photo by Mahmud Rahman for CRS/Caritas Bangladesh

 

For families like Shetara’s, by the time they make it to Bangladesh, they are depleted—emotionally, physically and often financially. At the country’s entry points, people are hungry and exhausted, and must figure out where to go and what to do. For many, their first need is food. The elderly are carried in buckets or blankets by younger relatives.

Dildar’s father-in-law could barely walk by the time they arrived. They had come from Longdum Hathi Para after Shetara had called to warn them. Dildar, whose husband had left her the year before, was struggling to care for her five children.

 

Since arriving in the camp, I have delivered three more babies. I hope someone will employ me here to be a midwife, because it is a blessing if I can save the mother and child together. After Senowara’s baby was born, I was so relieved, so happy—the baby had made it. When I see a new life come into the world, I feel it is a gift from God.

- Shetara

“My father-in-law and I carried four children, and my older son carried one,” Dildar says, with Shetara and Senowara sitting nearby in her tent. “I carried my son with disabilities on my back and my littlest one on my front. We had to swim across two or three canals in neck-high waters. Thankfully, others helped us to take my children across. The canals were so deep I couldn’t touch the bottom. I gave my children sweets to keep them quiet. I warned them, if you cry, they will come and kill us. We traveled like this for 8 days.

"In that escape, I lost the only treasured item I was able to bring with me: the contact numbers of my other relatives. They are lost in the waters,” says Dildar.

Her father-in-law’s health deteriorated quickly upon arrival. Just days after arriving in the camp, he died.

“I think it was from exhaustion. He was so weak. We buried him in a new cemetery in the camp. His eldest son carried out the last rituals. I had such respect for him. I miss him,” says Dildar.

 

Rohingya refugee camp in Bangladesh

Thangkhali refugee settlement is one of many intertwining, growing camps across the district of Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh.

Photo by Mahmud Rahman for CRS/Caritas Bangladesh

 

The fate of Rohingya refugees from Myanmar—like Shetara, Senowara and Dildar—is unknown. Will they be able to support themselves in Bangladesh, or will there be a peaceful option to return home to Myanmar? Most say they hope to return home. They wait for any sign, any news, as they deal with the challenges in this unfamiliar backdrop.

“I am grateful to have good water and food, and to be with my family,” says Shetara. “At least here, we will not get killed. We are getting what we need, but we would like to go back to our country in peace.”

Shetara’s skills as a midwife are already back at work.

“Since arriving in the camp, I have delivered three more babies. I hope someone will employ me here to be a midwife, because it is a blessing if I can save the mother and child together. After Senowara’s baby was born, I was so relieved, so happy—the baby had made it. When I see a new life come into the world, I feel it is a gift from God,” she says.

With a cemetery in one part of the camp, and new life coming in another, the fate of Rohingya refugees is very much in their care of one another. Hopefully, the compassion of others around the world will bring them long overdue relief, safety, recognition and justice—opportunities that Senowara’s newborn might be able to look forward to.

 

CRS/Caritas Bangladesh Response

Shetara, Senowara and Dildar’s families received food and kitchen sets from Caritas Bangladesh. With support from CRS, Caritas Bangladesh provides relief assistance to Rohingya refugees across camps in the district of Cox's Bazar. Emergency support has included an immediate 2-month supply of food and kitchen supplies for 10,000 families, or 68,000 people. Support will grow and adapt per needs on the ground, and likely prioritize safe shelter, living and hygiene supplies, clean water and sanitation.

 

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