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Bangladesh

My eye-opening journey to a Rohingya refugee camp

For the last 17 months, Humanity & Inclusion has been bringing emergency assistance to thousands of vulnerable Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. Teams have identified the most at-risk refugees, including people with injuries, disabilities, and physiological trauma, and have been providing them with rehabilitation, counseling, shelter kits, and other necessities.

Gabriel Perriau, Communications Officer for Humanity & Inclusion Canada, recently visited Cox’s Bazar and shared the following report.

After 30 hours of air travel and a ride in a “tum-tum”—the Bangladeshi version of rickshaw—I was relieved to finally arrive at Cox's Bazar to get a bit of rest. A  fishing port and tourist destination located along a 75-mile stretch of beaches, Cox's Bazar attracts the richest Bangladeshis. Paradoxically, this small seaside town has also become a hub for foreign humanitarian aid staff who work at the nearby Rohingya refugee camps.

The next day would be my first visit to a refugee camp, Ukhiya, which is crowded with more than 625,000 people, all waiting for a better future. The camp was formed in 1991 by a small group Rohingyas fleeing violence in Myanmar and has expanded dramatically since 2016 with the massive new influxes of Rohingyas.

c_Abir-Abdullah_HI_Ukhiya.jpgIn the morning, we drove some 20 miles out of the city. Gradually, the jungle gave way to a bleak landscape of makeshift shelters crisscrossed with narrow paths cut into the red soil. Plastic tarps and thatched roofs stretched for miles. The scenery was striking, but the sweltering heat was even more powerful.

To help us understand the difficulties the Rohingyas are facing, our local Humanity & Inclusion colleagues took us to meet several beneficiaries. First, we met Ali, an elderly man who had experienced a stroke that left him paralyzed on his left side. Ali explained to us how hard it is for someone with mobility challenges as nothing in the camp is designed for people with disabilities.

c_Abir_Abdullah_HI_Sokina.jpgWe then visited Sokina, a young woman who is permanently bedridden due to cerebral palsy. She could not speak, but when her eyes fixed on mine, I felt a sense of her suffering.

With each harrowing story I heard, I struggled to walk away. I felt the appreciation the beneficiaries and their families had for the HI staff supporting them. I could see how vital our work is to them.

Later, at an HI rehabilitation clinic, we met six-year-old Hamas and his father,  Saidunamin. The physical therapist performed exercises with Hamas, who has cerebral palsy, while his father watched closely. At home, Saidunamin is Hamas's primary caretaker. Four of Saidunamin's six children have some form of disability. This is a significant burden for a family in a refugee camp like Ukhiya, with its rough roads and near complete lack of proper facilities.

c_Abir-Abdullah_HI_Hamas_1.jpgWith tears in his eyes, Saidunhamin told us how he completely relies on help from aid organizations to get by. The physical therapist tried to comfort him while I looked on, unable help.

Once the session ended, Saidunamin stood up and took his boy in his arms. He told the physical therapist, "shukria"—thank you—and began the long walk back home along a dusty path. My colleagues and I got into our small Toyota truck and headed back our hotel in Cox's Bazar.

c_Abir-Abdullah_HI_Hamas_2.jpg

At home, the newspapers occasionally mention the Rohingyas' struggle, and our government emphasizes the urgency of their situation. Nothing, however, could have prepared me for what I witnessed firsthand. It's hard to remain indifferent to the fate of these men, women, and children. They are thousands of miles away from us, but their humanity shows us how alike we are.

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