Eight-year-old, Asom Tara, was playing a traditional Rakhine game for children “thang-thui”, with her two sisters and new friends, in front of a new refugee camp in Kutupalong Friday afternoon, when this correspondent walked into the area to interview refugees.
Just two week ago, her 45-year-old father, Solaimot Ullah, was picked up from their village in Dumbai near Maungdaw, Rakhine. After her father's demise, her family set out to for Bangladesh. After seven days of trekking the hills, crossing rivers, and physical suffering, they finally managed to escape death.
Talking about her father's gruesome demise, Asom hugged her mother - 40-year-old mother Halima Khatun - tightly, as heavy tear-drops rolled down her eyes.
Halima joined in and described what became of their fate on August 28 and how they walked on foot, without break, to cross over to Bangladesh on September 4. She said, by September 13, they had found a “shelter home” in Bangladesh.
By August 27, Myanmar military's violence had already spread across Halima's village.
However, on the morning of August 28, when her husband Solaimot was about to go out to buy medicine for one of their ailing daughters, Zohora Khatun, Myanmar army members and a group of Buddhists (Mogh) entered their small house. Within minutes, the army tied Solaimot up and took him away when his three daughters were still asleep.
“I screamed and asked them to leave my husband but they did not hear my plea. A Buddhist hit me on my arms with a stick,” Halima said.
“By now my daughters were awake and they came to comfort me. It was the last time I saw my husband,” she wept.
Before leaving, Solaimot asked Halima to leave the country and keep their children safe.
“Later in the evening, a group of Buddhists came inside my house and threatened to burn it down if we did not leave,” she resumed her story.
Halima had to sell off most her gold jewellery to one of her neighbours in exchange of whatever money she could get. “She gave me only 300000 kyat for 50 grams of gold. It was not the actual price for the gold.”
On the same day, Halima and her three girls set out for an unknown destination.
With thousands others like them, they reached the Myanmar border. Halima said: “When we reached the border, the guards searched my bag and looted the rest of my gold and money. We were left empty handed and I had to walk the hilly areas with my daughters – one of whom was very ill.”
Now, Halima lives in Kutupalong refugee camp with her three daughters —Zohra Khatun, Asom Tara and Sumaiya Khatun, along with three other family members who recently joined them.
So far, around 400,000 Rohingya have sought refuge – escaping torture and persecution in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, which aggravated since August 25, according to an IOM report published on Friday.
Around one third of Myanmar’s Rohingya population have fled northern Rakhine state for Bangladesh since August 25, when raids by Rohingya militants triggered the massive military campaign.
The United Nations (UN) has warned that the rest of the population may soon follow, deepening the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Bangladesh where some 10,000 refugees are arriving daily.
Relief workers in Bangladesh have struggled to manage the growing humanitarian crisis amid an acute shortage of shelters and supplies.
“We have to anticipate the worst case scenario where all Rohingya flee Rakhine,” said Mohammed Abdiker Mohamud, a director of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).
“Unless a political solution is found, there is a possibility that the entire Rohingya community may come to Bangladesh.”
There were previously an estimated 1.1 million Rohingya in Myanmar, where the stateless people were denied citizenship and subjected to a myriad of restrictions on their livelihoods.
The Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) attacked Myanmar police posts and army base in late August, triggering a fresh escalation in the violence, which forced the Rohingya to cross over to Bangladesh.
The Bangladesh government recently took a decision to give 2,000 acres of land to the Rohingya refugees for shelter.
Following the government's instruction, the Deputy Commissioner's Office in Cox’s Bazar and IOM are carrying bio-metric registration of the refugees.
By Friday evening, they completed registering 4,000 people – Halima’s family was amongst them.
Asom Tara, her two sisters and new friends can now play under the open sky without any fear of torture.
In the last two weeks, the Dhaka Tribune has talked to more than hundred Rohingya refugees regarding their thoughts on their stay in Bangladesh. Most regard the country as a "safe haven" – where locals are helpful and cordial, where no one harbours communal hatred.
Halima said her family has suffered immensely from lack of food, water, shelter, proper hygiene and sleep. “But things are changing now. People here come out to help, I have not seen this kind of warmth anywhere else,” she added.