By Ibrar Hussain
I have returned with the Save the Mothers Trust (SMT) team from our aid trip to Cox’s Bazaar, Bangladesh where food aid was distributed to the Rohingya Refugees.
3 flights and some 26 hours later, we finally reached Cox’s Bazaar.
Cox’s Bazaar houses some 29 refugee camps of varying sizes. One of the biggest camps visited had around 100,000 refugees living there.
Some camps were well maintained with good sanitation whilst others were dirty and chaotic.
The huts made from bamboo and plastic, weren’t very stable either and there are genuine fears about what will happen when the heavy rains come in March.
Upon arrival at the first camp, we noticed the sheer number of children – no young men were in sight.
As for food distribution, the Bangladeshi Army had a system in place to ensure that all families had their fair share.
Food is distributed on a rotational basis, giving food to each section of the camp in turn. To claim their rations, each family was given tokens whenever a fresh batch of aid arrived.
These tokens were their lifeline. It would ensure that their family had enough food for the next two weeks.
Our 1200 food parcels took up space in five truck loads and we were instructed by the army that they be distributed in across three separate camps.
Each parcel weighed 25kg and contained rice, potatoes, lentils, salt, oil and some other essentials.
As the last of the food rations were distributed in the first camp, there were still several families left clutching their token for the already exhausted truck-load of food aid. This was extremely difficult to witness.
Besides the distribution of food packs, cooked food was also distributed to over 1000 refugee children and their families.
A blanket distribution also took place and sweets were distributed amongst children.
Throughout the trip we heard harrowing stories of rape, murder and brutal slaughter of loved ones.
We saw a real desperation in the eyes of the refugees – although they had escaped the brutalities in Myanmar, the question is what lies ahead for them? Many of the Rohingya refugees I spoke to don’t want to go back. Several families described to us the violence they had been through. One man showed me how he has been shot in the hand and another pointed to the extensive burns on his back. There simply was no going back for these people.
The current living conditions are dire and with so many restrictions imposed on the movement of refugees by the Bangladeshi government the question is how long will this sustain?
We met one girl who told us of her harrowing ordeal. Her father and brother were butchered right before her eyes. She then fled with her mother who was also subjected to a violent attack.
The refuges have lost so much and their experiences are beyond comprehension.
There’s no doubt in the fact that the Bangladeshi Government is doing as much as it can but with an already struggling economy, Bangladesh too is limited in its resources. It is therefore extremely important that the international community come together to provide greater assistance to the Rohingya refugees.