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Dhaka Tribune

Five days on the Arakan road

Update : 27 Sep 2017, 01:59 AM
Ten days have passed since I got back from the temporary refugee camps in Kutupalong and Balukhali, but I still find it difficult to eat. Whenever I sit at the dining table, I see the hungry, desperate faces of the Rohingya. I see the faces of children asking for food from everyone they came across, and I recall how hungry little children and their mothers devoured a packet of biscuits or puffed rice as though it was the most delicious food on earth. I also remember the sounds; they still haunt me. In particular, the words of a four-year-old boy still ring in my ears: “I did not eat anything other than tree leaves and water while we were on our way from Myanmar to Bangladesh,” he said to me. As he finished his sentence, tears welled up in my eyes. I tried a lot to control myself but failed.The initial shockThe first couple of hours of the first day on the Arakan road felt like the most horrible experience of my life. I never imagined that a day would come when I would have to hear such harrowing tales. Most of the Rohingya refugees who fled from Myanmar as the military launched its campaign in the Rakhine state are now living in the Kutupalong and Balikhali areas. In the beginning, many of them were living on the streets in the open sky but now there are some temporary camps but not enough. The road is popularly known as Arakan road. It is also called ATM Zafar Sarak. I didn’t know that the second day with the refugees would be more horrible than the first. Anyone who visited the different hospitals in Cox’s Bazar will remain traumatised for quite a long time. The worst was Cox’s Bazar Sadar hospital. It was a struggle just to enter the building because of the unbearable stench of rotting human flesh, as many of the wounded went untreated for days. “I saw some Myanmar people die here while crying for pain,” a Bangladeshi patient Rahim Ullah recounted. “The surgery ward was full of patients from Myanmar and many were lying on the floor,” he said. I met a nine-year-old boy on the second floor of the Sadar hospital crying out in pain from bullet wounds.
The words of a four-year-old boy still ring in my ears: ‘I did not eat anything other than tree leaves and water while we were on our way from Myanmar to Bangladesh’
His mother was beside him, also crying. In Dulahazra Memorial Christian Hospital, I met a child with severe injuries from a landmine explosion, crying in pain. Most of his body was damaged, and the doctors told me that he might not survive. I did not dare to ask in the following days if he made it.Life goes onThe next day, as I went deeper into the stories of the refugees, I struggled with a question in my mind: Can human beings really claim to be superior to all other living things? I heard accounts of just how cruel human beings can be, and although the refugees’ stories could not be immediately verified, I saw first-hand the wounds and injuries that were the result of cruelty. It did not seem to me that the children were lying when they told me how their homes and villages were burned to the ground. I met a woman in her 20s who gave birth to a baby girl right when the army attacked their village. “I did not think that my child would survive, but she did, thanks to Allah,” she said. The tale of her journey from Myanmar to Bangladesh with a newborn baby helped me understand that a mother can do anything for her child. On the fourth and fifth days, I saw how they got used to their new lives. I met an elderly man in his 80s going to a newly built mosque. He told me that he had everything back home, but now lived in a small space in the camp. I met a man in his 40s building his home in the camp and recalling how his cows used to be very affectionate to him. “I miss my home a lot,” he said. I saw children in the camps playing and bathing in the dirty waters of a nearby pond, trying momentarily to forget the horrible memories that will probably haunt them for the rest of their lives. Life will go on and they will adapt to their new lives. But if there is one thing this crisis has taught us, it is that human beings cannot claim superiority -- for, sometimes, we are much crueller than animals can ever hope to be and more inhumane than any other living thing on Earth.Mushfique Wadud is a journalist.
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