Rohingya parents of six daughters share concerns for 2020

Rohingya refugees parents have high hopes for their six daughters in 2020 despite the tough conditions they endure in the vast camps in Bangladesh

Alastair Lawson Tancred
Rohingya refugee
UNICEF Bangladesh/2019/Nazzina
01 January 2020

Rohingya refugees Habi Alam and Dildar Begum have high hopes for their six unmarried daughters in 2020 despite the tough conditions they endure in the vast camps of south-eastern Bangladesh. 

The couple and their daughters – who are all aged 18 or under – live in a cramped bamboo and tarpaulin shelter which is about half the size of a singles squash court.

It is not an easy place to bring up girls. The family’s shelter has no running water and an outside latrine that is not safe for unaccompanied female refugees to use at night time.

Habi and his wife Dildar have a total of eight children. Their oldest son and eldest daughter are married with children of their own.

The family and about 750,000 other Rohingya refugees fled persecution committed by the Myanmar military in the autumn of 2017. They arrived in the crowded refugee camps of Bangladesh with little more than the clothes on their backs.

“Living in such a small hut with my six daughters and two grandchildren is really hard for me and my husband,” says Dildar.

The biggest challenge faced by the couple is finding enough food for everyone to eat once the monthly World Food Programme handouts – usually rice and pulses – begins to run thin. 

“My husband earns whatever he can in the camps,” she says, “but sometimes the food supplies here only last for half the month.

“At other times we run out of gas for our cooking stove and [are forced to] borrow another stove from others.”

Beyond worries about food, Habi and Dildar say their next major concern for 2020 is education for their daughters, three of whom attend a World Vision facility supported by UNICEF.

Rohingya refugee
UNICEF Bangladesh/2019/Nazzina

Habi differs from some Rohingya fathers in the camps when he says that he is determined that his daughters should receive the best education they can in the camps.

“It is the best chance they have to receive their lives,” he says. “I think that over time other Rohingya parents will increasingly want to give their girls an education.”

Dildar nods her head in agreement: “I am happy that three of my daughters are attending UNICEF-supported programmes,” she says. “They never miss their classes. It seems they are truly at their happiest in the centre.”

Raziya, the couple’s 12-year-old daughter says that best part of life in the camps for she and her younger sisters Ferdous and Sadeka attend the centre, where she learns tailoring, handicrafts, English, Burmese, maths and other life skills.  

“I want to be educated so that I can become a teacher,” she says.

The three girls collect water daily for their family in addition to helping their mother carry out other household chores.

Their mother says the girls cope admirably in tough conditions.

“Because it is so cramped there is hardly any privacy in the camps, Dildar says, “but we are somehow managing this situation.

“We used to have a large home in Myanmar, but we could not sleep there peacefully because we were constantly in fear.

“At least now my children can sleep here without worrying about their safety.”

And what are her thoughts about the family returning to Myanmar at some point?

“If we have our safety and security can be ensured – and my children can live like any other Burmese people in Myanmar with dignity – we would like to go back home,” she says.

Rohingya refugee
UNICEF Bangladesh/2019/Nazzina
(Picture shows Dildar Begum [top] with her daughters Shakila, 18 (dressed in black), Azida (dressed in black and gold), Shafikur, Amina (in orange), Razia, 13 (in pink), Ferdous, 12 (in white) and Sadeka, 9, in turqoise).