THE BLOG

Incredible Stories Of Refugees Fleeing Intense Violence In Myanmar

26/09/2017 18:45

More than 400,000 people have reportedly fled for their lives from Myanmar into neighbouring Bangladesh, and each one has their own heart-wrenching story to tell.

In the week I was in Bangladesh I met countless families, whilst assessing the need on the ground and seeing how Islamic Relief could help.

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Caption: Imran Madden at the southernmost city of Teknaf, along the Naf River, where a dozen narrow wooden boats were collecting refugees from a river island where they had fled by night and dropping them on the Bangladesh side of the river.

One of the first people I spoke to was Mohammad Rafiq. He was crossing into Bangladesh with his wife Nuru, and their four children.

We caught up with Muhammad at a river crossing that was the second step on their journey through the border area. He was joined by several members of his village and they remained together as a means of mutual support.

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Caption: Muhammad's youngest son, Noyum, who he holds closely in his arms, had fever and needed immediate medical attention.

Muhammad held his young son, Noyum, closely in his arms. Noyum had a fever and seemed semi-conscious, calling constantly to his parents.

Muhammad told me, "We left in the middle of the night. We had time only to grab our children. We left everything behind..."

He needed to complete the next part of his journey quickly as his son required immediate attention. However, Noyum has to compete with hundreds of others at this crossing, all of whom have similar needs and stories.

I cannot help but wonder whether two-year-old Noyum received the urgent medical treatment he needed.

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Caption: Najmul Haq fled Myanmar, arriving in Bangladesh with 13 members of his family on 6 September.

On my second day in Bangladesh, our team visited Poschim Kul village, where I met Najmul Haq.

Najmul's home is now a makeshift camp on top of a hill, a stone's throw away from the border.

What was once a lush hillside has been cleared for a settlement.

The huts are constructed from plastic sheeting and locally-cut bamboo, demonstrating the refugees' incredible ingenuity, but their resources will not last long. There are no latrines and a single water pump serves hundreds of people.

Speaking to Najmul was excruciatingly painful. He said: "We had land, cattle and poultry but had to leave it all behind. Yesterday, I tried to cross back into Myanmar to retrieve some of my animals but I was forced back by the border guards. I am not comfortable here but I know I will not be safe if I return. In the end, if Allah wants me to die, I will die."

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Caption: Soydul Amin clears the hillside with family members to build a shelter for his family and other refugees.

The refugees I met in Bangladesh all showed incredible resilience, but they still need help.

At a refugee camp called Tayum Kali, roughly 4km from the Myanmar border, I met Soydul Amin who had arrived in Bangladesh on 12 September with five family members.

He had to flee overnight and, like the others I met, he too left everything behind.

Soydul showed incredible determination by clearing part of a hillside then levelling it out with hand tools - aiming to, quite literally, build a new home for his recently uprooted family.

He then set about building a shelter frame out of bamboo that he covered with plastic sheeting purchased from the local market.

You can see that the refugees are self-sufficient and stoic, and that they are determined to help themselves. While this independent spirit is essential in the chaos of the first few days, it will be down to NGOs like Islamic Relief, for the most part, to provide them with improved shelter units, water, sanitation and food.

Many of these settlements are on hilltops and in early December the temperature will drop dramatically. These makeshift shelters will be completely inadequate for the coming winter.

Soydul, sounding resolute, told me: "My family and I will clear this land and make a shelter. We will support each other and others around us."

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Caption: Muhammad Ridwan, from Poschim Kul, Bangladesh (100m from the Myanmar border), opened a small shop when refugees started arriving.

In many refugee situations there can be tensions between the new arrivals and the local 'host' community. This is not always the case, however.

It might seem insensitive, but the arrival of refugees can also provide opportunities for local businesses.

Some will no doubt profit unfairly, but for many this allows them to provide refugees with their basic needs until NGOs can provide for them. This undoubtedly reduces some tensions.

Muhammad Ridwan is a farmer who opened a small shop next to the refugee camp at Poschim Kul village when refugees started arriving.

Ridwan said: "Last night a large number of refugees arrived and some of the villages are located very close to the border on the Myanmar side. I notice that very few women come out of the camp. They are afraid."

His remarks are perhaps a reflection of concerns over the safety of women at night and those venturing out alone. All refugees, of course, are vulnerable to a degree.

The crisis in Myanmar has seen an unprecedented number of refugees being forced to flee, a number that we have not seen previously over this decade long conflict.

We live in a world where we hear about a new crisis every month, and we are in danger of becoming desensitised to human suffering.

It is vital that the stories behind this crisis are told so that we, the international community, can truly comprehend their plight and respond in their hour of need.

Islamic Relief UK has launched an emergency appeal for Myanmar. Please donate now and help save lives.

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