Eman's story: Fleeing violence, Rohingya find scant respite in Bangladesh

Eman tells her devastating story of how Myanmar's violence has led to her misfortunes

Rohingyas in Kutupalong clinic
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Eighteen-year-old Eman is one of the nearly one million Rohingya refugees who managed the perilous escape from the violence in Myanmar and is now living in squalid conditions in massive refugee camps in Bangladesh’s southern district of Cox’s Bazar.

Extreme violence by the Myanmar military in August last year forced tens of thousands of Rohingya – a small Muslim minority in majority-Buddhist Myanmar – to flee Rakhine State. The government has been accused of ethnic cleansing and mass murder of the Rohingya, a minority that the state accuses of being interlopers.

"Seeing no possibility to stay in Myanmar, we started walking through the mountains towards Bangladesh," Eman told The National, adding that the military was beating and chasing "whoever they found in front of them".

Rohingya refugees cross the Naf River from Myanmar into Bangladesh.
Rohingya refugees cross the Naf River from Myanmar into Bangladesh. Magnum Photos for MSF

“After crossing the border, we saw three Bangladeshi men and they threatened us, looted our money, mobiles and belongings,” said Eman, who asked not to use her real name. “My brother was stabbed in his abdomen with a knife. He was not severely hurt, but there was bleeding from the injury.”

She described how they had hidden in a forest overnight before managing to reach a camp in Kutupalong where her grandparents had already been living in a tent for the last year.

“We stayed with my grandparents for eight days and later we built a house with bamboo and plastic sheets,” she said.

As well as the daily hardships of life in a huge refugee settlement, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) are warning that the arrival of the seasonal monsoon rain could bring yet more despair to the Rohingya refugees already living in crowded, poor housing. The UN says they are now faced with the fastest-growing refugee crisis in the world and the concentration of refugees in Cox's Bazar is now among the densest in the world.


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The heavy rain will likely have a "very severe and dramatic impact on the lives of those living in the camps and has exceeded our expectations in terms of the rapidly deteriorating living conditions there", Sam Turner, MSF's emergency coordinator in Cox's Bazar, told The National.

Mr Turner warns that the settlements are overly crowded and do not "meet the usual standards for humanitarian refugee camps in terms of the congestion that we have seen and people living in conditions that are hospitable to rain”.

As well as the lashing rain, high winds can compound the threat. “This [wind] can lead to the destruction of the very basic shelters that people are living in, they are constructed from bamboo and plastic sheeting,” Mr Turner said.

In the first few days of the rain last week, three people died and 900 shelters, 15 water points, two health facilities and two food-distribution sites were damaged or destroyed.

FILE - In this Sept. 14, 2017 file photo, a Rohingya man carries two children to shore in Shah Porir Dwip, Bangladesh, after they arrived on a boat from Myanmar. The U.N. refugee agency says nearly 69 million people who have fled war, violence and persecution were forcibly displaced last year, a new record for the fifth straight year. The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said Tuesday, June 19, 2018 that continued crises in places like South Sudan and Congo, as well as the exodus of Muslim Rohingya from Myanmar starting last year, raised the overall figure of forced displacements in 2017 to 68.5 million. (AP Photo/Dar Yasin, File)
A Rohingya man carries two children to shore in Shah Porir Dwip, Bangladesh, after they arrived on a boat from Myanmar. AP

When she spoke to The National, Eman was with her husband at MSF's Kutupalong clinic. He is receiving treatment on his leg. He was hit by a bus as he walked to his sister's shelter in the camps and lost part of his thigh, leaving him paralysed.

“Since the accident, my husband doesn’t speak at all. My husband used to do everything before the accident; now he cannot even move from the bed, let alone do other things.”


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They have been waiting three days at the clinic that served some 400,000 patients – an average of 14,000 a week – in the seven months between August 2017 and March 2018.

“The care is quite fine – my husband is looked after regularly – but I don’t know how long it will take him to be fully cured,” she said.

“My sorrows know no bounds; Allah knows if he will get better."