Eighty-year-old Arzu Meher had her only son and his wife with her when she crossed over to Bangladesh four days ago, fleeing home to escape the atrocious military persecution going on at the Rakhine state in Myanmar.
Exhausted by the journey, she still had her family with her as she walked to the Kutupalong refugee camp in Ukhiya upazila, Cox's Bazar. But soon after the trio made it to the camp, Arzu had only seconds to feel relieved – safe – before she realised she was alone in a crowd of thousands of other Rohingya refugees; her son and daughter-in-law were nowhere to be seen.
Since then, the 80-year-old has hardly stopped crying, constantly looking for what remains of her family, worried about who would take care of her in the coming days.
When this correspondent met her on Saturday, the elderly widow was distraught.
“My home is in Fakirabazar area, at Dhekibonia in Maungdaw province,” she said. “My son, Abdul Karim, used to look after me after my husband, Mojaher Mia, died.”
Karim got married to Ismat Khatun, also from Fakirabazar, two years ago.
“It was fine at the beginning, but two months after the wedding, my son and his new wife started to abuse me, both physically and mentally,” Arzu said, crying. “They often left me starving me for days. When they gave me food, it was never enough.”
When Karim decided to flee home and cross over to Bangladesh, he was not willing to bring his elderly mother along at first.
“He tried to convince me to stay home in Fakirabazar, but then he and his wife brought me.”
Arzu arrived at Kutupalong on Thursday.
“They [Karim and his wife] asked me to wait near one of the huts, saying they were going to find somewhere to stay. But they never came back,” she said, sobbing.
The camp authorities took notice of the elderly woman crying, and arranged for her accommodation in a hut in Block E of the camp, where she is staying another Rohingya woman named Sajeda Begum, a middle-aged woman.
All Arzu speaks about now is to be reunited with her son and go home in Rakhine, said her neighbours in the camp.
Sajeda, Arzu's roommate, said at first she had not believed that Arzu had been abandoned by her son.
“I thought she [Arzu] was lying to secure accommodation for herself, but I realised she was not when she told me the whole story,” she said.
“I feel really bad for her. After she told me her story, I informed the leader of Block E in the camp, requesting him to arrange food for her twice a day,” Sajeda added.
She said Arzu still cries herself to sleep every night – for her son and for the life she has left in Rakhine.
“Despite being in despair, Arzu sill prays for her son, hoping that he will come back and take her home one day,” she added.
When Arzu spoke to this correspondent later, it was evident that she still had some hope. “We will all go back home in Rakhine one day,” she said.