A large proportion of children among the hundreds of thousands of Rohingya who have fled to Bangladesh from Myanmar’s Rakhine state are now roaming aimlessly without any adult supervision in Cox’s Bazar.
On Tuesday, many of these children were seen at Teknaf and Ukhiya, where Rohingya refugees are living either in makeshift camps or under the open sky.
Umme Kulsum is one of the children who has crossed into Bangladesh since the latest escalation in violence in Rakhine began on August 25.
Separated from her family, our correspondent found her at Teknaf bus stand in the afternoon along with several hundred Rohingya refugees who were waiting for transportation to a refugee camp.
She was standing beside the town’s main road when the correspondent approached her. One of the other refugees translated her local dialect and told the Dhaka Tribune that her name was Umme Kulsum.
He guessed that she could be no more than four or five years old, as she could not say. The child had no idea where her family was, he said.
Refugee Mohammad Rafiq, 27, said one of his neighbour’s children, six-year-old Sumaiya, came with him after Myanmar security forces killed her family and set their home on fire with the bodies inside on August 27.
The army also killed many and burned scores of houses in his home village of Hisasurat near Maungdaw city, in the north of Rakhine, he said. “Sumaiya joined us when I was fleeing with my wife and five kids.”
When asked whether Sumaiya will stay with them, Rafiq said: “I don’t know where she will go. I’m waiting for a bus or a truck here to go to the refugee camp with my family. Maybe I’ll take her with us.”
National Human Rights Commission Chairman Kazi Rezaul Hoque on Tuesday told the Dhaka Tribune that the lost and unidentified Rohingya children were now the country’s responsibility, “as they are now in our shelter”.
“Around 80% of the refugees are women, children and older people. We need to figure out how we can support them,” he said.
Senior Manager (communication and advocacy) of Action contre La Faim (ACF) Bangladesh, Suchismita Roy, said they had been able to identify some of the lost Rohingya Children.
“Many of them lost their families while trying to flee to Bangladesh. We are giving them a friendly space and have our psycho-social counselling unit to help them overcome the trauma,” she said.
“We are also thinking about coordinating with other organisations and raising a fund for these children.”