Written by Lindsay Gladding edited by Megan Radford
This Universal Children’s Day, I am with Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, where they have fled from violence in their native Myanmar.
There are 340,000 refugee children living in difficult conditions with very little to shelter, feed or keep them safe. More are coming every day. About 2500 of those children are unaccompanied, separated from their parents by brutal violence and their dangerous trek through jungle and the countryside to get here.
World Vision is working hard to keep up with the desperate needs of these children. We are setting up 40 Child Friendly Spaces and Women and Young Children Spaces. Children and adolescents, especially girls, are at a high risk of trafficking and gender-based violence when disasters strike.
Razia* knows this firsthand.
She and her husband were asleep when a man tried to take her four year-old from the tent where they all live.
"We left Burma (Myanmar) to keep our children safe from the violence but now we feel more vulnerable,” she says.
As a mother, Razia’s story is horrifying. None of us wants to imagine something like this happening to our children, and most of us don’t have to. Before the violence, Razia didn’t either. And that’s what makes her current predicament so shocking. She fled in search of safety for herself and her children and must still fight everyday to protect them.
The truth is that this conflict isn’t new. For decades, the Rohingya people have been discriminated against, often violently, and lack even basic citizenship in the country where they have lived for generations. But the world finally began to wake up to the crisis in August of this year, when fresh clashes broke out and Myanmar’s military was accused of brutal attacks on the ethnic minority.
And yet, to go home is all 12 year-old Safiullah* wants. He arrived in Cox’s Bazar alone after violence broke out near his home.
"Suddenly, we noticed that people around us were running and shouting ‘O Allah-O Allah save us!’ My mother said, ‘You all run to the forest; me and your father are coming’,” Safiullah recalls.
She never came. Safiullah now mourns the loss of his parents while living with his older brother and his wife. They survive on assistance from World Vision, but life is hard and not at all like home.
“In our home at Maungdaw, my mother always told me to study. But here there is nobody to say so. I am always remembering all the things she said to me,” said Safiullah, tears streaming down his face.
It is devastating to see children like Safiullah who have lost their families, their homes, their schools, their friends and their way of life. I think about my nine-year-old son at home. Knowing how hard it is for both of us to be separated even for just this week while I am here in Cox’s Bazar I am heartbroken for Safiullah who may never see his parents again.
My son understands that we must be apart so that I can share the stories of children who are far less fortunate than he is. Even though I am thousands and thousands of miles away from home, Safiullah and my son are not so different. They have the same rights and the same need to be protected and feel loved.
We have to act. For the Rohingya children, and for our own children’s sake too.
Lilla Watson, the Indigenous Australian visual artist, is famous for her quote, “If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time, If you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”
This Universal Children’s Day, our children’s freedom is bound up with the children of the Rohingya people. Until the world is a safe, loving place for them, it cannot be a safe, loving place for any children.
*Name has been changed