For the 519,000 Rohingya people who fled the outbreak of violence in Myanmar since 25th August, the journey to Bangladesh was a matter of life and death.
ActionAid Bangladesh is on the ground responding to the crisis. The team interviewed several Rohingya women and girls in Cox’s Bazar about their harrowing experiences fleeing Myanmar, and discovered that their hardships are not over yet.
ActionAid teams are on the ground in Cox's Bazar working to distribute emergency food, clean drinking water and hygiene kits to help prevent the spread of disease. You can donate to our emergency appeal here.
It’s hard to imagine the hardship and trauma these women have gone through. Their ability to protect their families and their will to survive is a testament to their remarkable strength and resilience.
Sakina (pictured above), is a 35 year old Rohingya refugee who gave birth to her daughter Noor on a boat while fleeing the violence in Myanmar.
“My contractions had already begun when we were attacked and I had to run for my life in that state. That's how I got to the boat. I had to carry our children and when my contractions became bad I'd find people to grip on to. Doing all of these things, I walked for a mile and boarded the boat. My step mum was too weak so I gave birth and delivered my baby on my own.”
"I can't describe what I went through. I felt like I was going to die on that boat” says Sakina.
Hasina, also 35, has become the sole carer for her 5 children, two of whom are disabled, after a frantic escape from horrific violence in Myanmar.
"Our houses were set on fire and this created panic all around. We could see people were screaming - they were in danger. When the gunfire started we were at a loss and we all jumped into the river to cross the river. But one shot hit my husband and he was dead and we couldn't even look back. I had to save my children.”
Hungry, scared, and exhausted, Hasina would still not give up.
“It took us four days to get to Bangladesh. We walked, we ran, we went through the jungle. I had to carry my children in my arms, on my back, on top of my shoulders.”
Many fleeing the violence are just young girls - who faced with life or death have had to rise up and become as strong as adults in order to survive.
Morsheeda is only 12 years old, and escaped to Bangladesh with her ten year old sister Shaheena and her young brother. Their parents were shot dead while fleeing the violence, but they had to carry on.
“It took us seven days to reach Bangladesh. It was difficult because there was rain and some days scorching heat. We had to walk and to run. There was nowhere for us to take shelter,” Morsheeda says.
“The thoughts that were going through my mind were: where will we go? Who will look after us? Who will give us shelter?”
“Before the attack we were living in peace with our parents. My dad was a teacher. I miss my mum and dad so much. I worry for my younger sister, Shaheena.”
Even once arriving in the refugee camp, the rights of women and girls remain under threat.
There is a severe shortage of food, water and medical aid. New mothers face unique challenges accessing urgent health care for their newborn babies.
Sakina has still not been able to access medical support for herself or her now six-week old daughter.
“I have not seen a doctor since the birth. We don't have money to visit a clinic. I just recovered on my own in the camp.”
As in all emergencies, women and girls face an increased risk of gender based violence - including in refugee camps.
Hasina highlighted how even going to the washroom is a challenge.
"We are not used to moving around or using the toilets in front of men so men are roaming around, walking around and we have to go to the latrine in front of them, so that is uncomfortable for us.
“My children cannot go easily to the latrine and there is no washroom for the girls.”
Hasina is especially concerned for the health and safety of her children.
“There is a scarcity of food, there are high temperatures and altogether we are living an inhuman life."
“With the shortage of food I've started to worry about their health. They might get sick or develop health complications. I also find them getting thinner day by day. I'm worried about that. It's in the forefront of my mind.”
ActionAid Bangladesh is on the ground in Mainnerghona settlement responding to the crisis - and with the resilience of Sakina, Hasina, and Morsheeda in mind, are prioritising the protection of women’s rights throughout the response.
Alongside urgent provisions of safe drinking water, food packages, cooking supplies, clothing, and blankets, out teams are also building a women’s centre, separate bathing areas for women, and solar powered emergency toilets for women and girls.
The women’s centre will be a safe space where mothers can breastfeed in private, receive hygiene kits, emotional support, and access medical referrals. The centre is expected to support thousands of families over the next 3 months.
To help us scale up the response and reach more Rohingya women and girls in urgent need of support, please donate today.