Warning: this blog contains an account of sexual assault that some readers may find upsetting.
For centuries, the Rohingya people have lived in Myanmar, a predominantly Buddhist nation. After gaining its independence in 1948, Myanmar put into effect a series of laws that limited the Rohingya people from gaining national registration cards. Because of these limitations, and because the Rohingya are not recognized as an official ethnic group, they are essentially stateless.
In recent years, increasing tensions and violent conflict between the Rohingya and Myanmar nationals have caused the Muslim minority to flee into neighboring countries, namely Bangladesh. Those who have been forced the flee have faced immense devastation.
We encountered Mima* at one of the refugee camps. Her story is one that needs to be heard.
Mima and her husband weren’t wealthy, but they had a peaceful life. They lived in the same little village in Myanmar where generations of their families lived before them. As a young couple with a new baby, they were learning the joys and trials of parenthood, surrounded by the stability of the community they had grown up in.
But in one day, it all came undone. It was just a Wednesday morning. The sounds of families waking up. The voices of children.
And then gunshots. Militants had come, and in the hours that followed, Mima’s peace was shattered. The violence went on until the evening. People were shot “like birds”, says Mima. When her small son cried, Mima couldn’t get to him. She was being raped and beaten.
By the end of the day, 55 villagers were dead, including Mima’s son. Most homes were on fire, and many women had suffered in the same way as Mima. Sounds of mourning and weeping filled the night as families gathered the bodies of their loved ones.
Mima, her husband, and sister-in-law walked for two days to reach the river that marks the border with Bangladesh. They have found shelter in a tiny, crowded camp in Cox’s Bazar. It seemed safe for a while, but then the coronavirus arrived and it has begun to spread.
COVID-19: ANOTHER DEVASTATION
In April, Bangladesh officials reported cases of coronavirus, confirming the first case in Cox’s Bazar – the area where almost a million Rohingya people are living in refugee camps just inside the border of Bangladesh.
The people have no space for social distancing. Tiny, crowded shelters are typically occupied by 12 people. Many shelters share the same well water and toilet. Healthcare is scarce and illness is already rife because basic things like clean water and soap are in short supply.
Tearfund is working in the camps to provide food aid, hygiene kits, clean water, solar lighting, child-friendly spaces, and safe showers for women. These kinds of things can’t undo what’s happened, but they can make a difference. For women like Mima who have been raped, having a place to wash without feeling afraid is one of the small ways they can start to have their dignity restored. Hygiene is always crucial – but never more so than now.
Our goal is to equip 10,000 Rohingya refugees with sanitation supplies, gloves, masks, and information about Covid-19 prevention. One Day's Wages is working with us to help make this goal possible -- they have awarded us a grant that will match any donation that comes in.
When you donate $25, it won't help just five families, it will help 10 families gain access to sanitation items like soap and bleaching powder. When you give $75, it won't provide only one hand-washing station for a community in need, it will provide two hand-washing stations.
Together, with One Day’s Wages and supporters like you, we can bring safety to the world's largest refugee camp.