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Finding ‘peace’ as refugees

Samin Sababa

Rajan Begum gave birth to her fifth child after a four-day walk to Bangladesh, the country across the border of her homeland Myanmar. 

The 25-year-old Rohingya refugee said she went into labour while passing a settlement of forcibly displaced people from the troubled state of Rakhine.

Neither she, nor her husband Mohammad Johar, a 28-year-old day labourer from Maungdaw, knew the name of the place where they sought refuge.  

“I just saw a hut and entered it. It belonged to someone we knew. That night there was so painful,” said Rajan. “But we got news this health centre and came here.”

Rajan and Johar seemed relaxed standing in the hallway of the UNICEF-supported health centre at Kutupalong refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar. Rajan in particular seemed delighted, holding her newborn Noor Faisal.

The couple, staying with a relative at Modhuchhara, an extension of the old Kutupalong camp, had returned to the health centre to get Noor vaccinated.

“What happened was just in our fate,” said Johar, about the violent army crackdown that forced over 600,000 Rohingya to flee Rakhine.

It was a journey that cost him all his savings. He begged people in Maungdaw for loans and paid bribes to Myanmar soldiers so they wouldn’t attack his family.

“They still burnt down my hut. It was spacious. That’s the only sad part. But I’m not worried now, just happy to have my boy Noor. This feels like my own country. No burnings, no killings, no-one who wants to take you away blindfolded,” said Johar.

“Back home they wouldn’t allow us to be fully educated. We couldn’t even gather for prayer.”

Some of his children would go to primary school in Maungdaw. He said he heard of the UNICEF’s school in the camp and was preparing to send his children there.

Huzaifa, 8, Asafa, 6, Sufaira, 4, Safan, 3 and Noor, barely eight days old, were all living in the shed that belonged to their father’s uncle.

They were altogether a family of 13, including Johar’s TB-infected father, who was carried to Bangladesh in a sling. Johar said he was clearing a piece of land, next to his uncle’s shed, to set up his own home. They were all depending on relief, but did not worry about the future.

“Allah will make sure we are fed,” said Rajan, holding her newborn Noor as she sat in a pool of sunlight, surrounded by her sleeping children.



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