A Rohingya refugee family flees violence

Nov 14, 2017
10-Minute Read
By Annila Harris, edited by Sarah Bartley
 
The night her family decided to leave is burned into 35 year-old *Razia’s memory.
 
"The villages surrounding ours were in flames. It was very clear ours would be next. Our lives were in danger. We didn't want to wait – we grabbed our children and left immediately, leaving behind everything we worked our whole lives for," she says.

Life back home 

Back in their village in Myanmar, Razia’s husband made a living by selling vegetables from their vegetable garden and cutting firewood and bamboo. In accordance with traditional gender norms, Razia’s responsibilities included doing household chores, helping her husband in the vegetable patch and caring for their six children.
 
"We had a small vegetable patch and grew potatoes, chilli peppers, beans and other vegetables. My day used to start early with cooking for the family then attending to the needs of my children," says Razia.
Typical scenes in urban and rural Myanmar
Typical scenes in urban and rural Myanmar
 
Apart from their routine activity, they served as unpaid daily labourers when required by the military.
 
"If we said no and resisted then we had to serve jail time. My husband was put in jail once. He was there the whole night. He was beaten and lost a tooth. He was released only after I gave them one hen as bail for his release," Razia recalls.

Leaving it all behind 

Triggered by the violence that erupted in the Rakhine State of Myanmar, Razia’s family made the bold choice to leave all their material possessions behind and flee with their children.
 
Kicking into survival mode, with her childrens’ lives at stake, Razia carried her youngest in her arms and the older ones tagged along behind as they headed into the forests to take cover.
 
Hiding in the bushes, the family anxiously waited for the coast to be clear before heading back to their home. The wait turned from a day into a week, and with no food the wails of her children grew louder.
 
Because of their young children, Razia and her husband had been unable to carry along any food supplies.
 
" As a mother, my heart hurt when the children cried. I was in no position to provide for them. Other villagers who did carry some food were reluctant to share with us, as it was a question of their survival, too. It was either for their children or for mine,” Razia says.
 
“It's the most unsettling feeling. We hid for nearly ten days hoping to go back but the attackers came back checking regularly for any survivors. We had no option but to cross over to Bangladesh. Without food we had little chance of surviving.”
 
The herculean journey had just begun. Braving the unknown dangers that lurked in the forests and the erratic weather conditions, the family made its way to one of the refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar.

New dangers in a refugee camp 

"We didn't get a tarp the first week. We just had to get by. No food, no shelter, no medicine - it was very challenging. It rained sometimes and other times it was extremely hot. The children were dehydrated and started developing fevers and coughs," she says.
 
Finally, after getting a tiny space to set up their shelter the family tried to address the pressing needs of food and shelter for the children. Having very little available, Razia and her husband tried their best to provide a secure space for their children.

Using a thin sheet of plastic, they carpeted the wet, muddy ground and fashioned walls as best they could.
 
But these makeshift walls weren’t enough to keep the danger out. At one point Razia nearly lost her four year-old daughter. 
 
"That night was the most shocking. It was dark but the moon radiated some light. We were all asleep. I keep the little one in the middle and the older children sleep on the sides. A man entered our tent from the side and picked up my four year-old."
 
Close up of child's eyes
Four year-old Fizia* was the victim of an attempted kidnapping. 

The intruder accidentally grazed the arms of the older daughter, waking the child with a start. When she saw her sister in the arms of a stranger, she let out a loud scream, waking up the family.
 
"When my daughter screamed, we all got up. The intruder left the child and ran. We were unable to catch him," says Razia. 
 
Ever since that incident Razia feels unsafe and fears for her children, especially her daughters.
 
"We left Burma (Myanmar) to keep our children safe from the violence but now we feel more vulnerable. I also have a young daughter who is 14 years old. We don't want anything to happen to her or she will get a bad name and no one will marry her. When it gets a bit dark I accompany her to the toilet, I don't leave her alone. We keep the children at home most of the time," says Razia.

a young girl behind a fence of sticksThe family has reinforced their tent with sticks to protect from intruders.

What can you do? 

Razia is one of the 900,000 refugees who have fled across the border from Myanmar to Bangladesh. As a member of the Rohingya group, she has been a target for violence in her home country. Many of the refugees are living in the same conditions as Razia – no food, water, healthcare or proper shelter.   
 
There are between 1,200 and 1,800 refugees crossing the border into Bangladesh daily and sixty per cent are children. To learn more about the refugee crisis, visit our facts sheet here. 

World Vision is working in Bangladesh to provide emergency food relief and mobile child friendly spaces.  We will soon be providing clean water, shelter and sanitation facilities and protection for women and children.    
 
Razia’s family has received emergency food relief from World Vision.
 
Until November 28, 2017, the Canadian government will be matching donations to help the Rohingya refugees.  Donate now to help people affected by violence in Myanmar.
 
*name has been changed
 
Pictured at top of page: 35 year-old Razia with her four and two year-old children.