Rohingya refugees - testimonies

All names in these accounts are aliases.

Anwara
35 years old at the Nayapara Camp

"One year ago, a camp official asked me whether I wanted to go back to Burma. I said no, but he forced me in the mini-bus and took me to the departure point. Again I refused at the departure point. My husband was hiding. The camp official asked me where he was. I did not respond and he started beating me. He broke my arm. Do you feel it? Here, I show you the x-ray&#…. I was very afraid. A doctor took me and my children to the hospital in Cox's Bazar, where I stayed for six days. Then they brought us to Chittagong hospital.

"I have seven children; four were born in the camps. My husband is not here. He ran away to Teknaf and is not allowed to come back to the camp. I do want my husband with me. My daughter wants to see her father. But the camp officials do not allow it. My husband does not send food or money, so I collect from other houses. I do not have problems as a woman alone, but it has made me a beggar."

Delara
22 years of age at the Nayapara Camp

"When the [Myanmar] government took our land, we protested. The soldiers tied us up in our own house, and they beat my father and brothers. They threatened to rape us women. That's when my father decided that we should leave. We were a family of 12 people. We couldn't take anything with us.

"My family and I had stayed in Nayapara for three years. Then one day, the camp officials took my family out of our room, while I was in another room. I have never seen my family since. I have been crying a lot. Only my brother returned. He now lives in Teknaf and visits me every now and then.

"After my family was sent back to Burma, I stayed with friends in the camp. I got married and we have two children. My husband is a good man. Three or four years ago, we refused to take our rations because the camp officials were forcing us to go back to Burma. They then took the men, including my husband, to jail because they were creating troubles in the camp. I cried a lot, but I am managing - I have to take care of my children.

"I have asked the UNHCR to help bring back my husband. They promised to solve it, but he still has not returned. He is in the Cox's Bazar jail. He is in jail with about 100-200 other Rohingya refugees. Sometimes I receive a letter from him. But I have not received a letter from him in the last three months.

"My hope is to have my husband out of jail. I don't have money. I can not sell my food, since I don't have enough food. I ask my neighbours to give me food."

Omar
18 years old at the Nayapara camp

"I got married two months ago. Of course, it was not the same ceremony as it could have been in Burma. We did not really enjoy ourselves. You can only marry if the camp official gives you permission. I had to give 400 takas to his office staff so that they could enjoy themselves. I had no choice, otherwise they would have given us problems. The imam came to our room and married us, that was all.

"We don't have sufficient food. Before we had enough food for three meals a day, but this stopped seven years ago. Now we get enough only for two times a day, and the food is not good. Before we got fish and potatoes, now it's only dahl and rice. I can not sell the food I receive. I don't have a job outside the camp. I am afraid that if I get caught outside the camp that I will be cut from the family book [The family book is the identity document of the registered refugee, and is required to access food, non-food items in the ration package, and medical care]. And if I would work outside the camp, the villagers might take my money. Once, my relatives were coming from Teknaf to bring me money, but they were beaten by villagers who took their money.

"My little brother goes to school now. But for me it is not possible. I have no books, no pencils, no shoes. I did go to school in the camp for three years when my parents were still alive. This school was made by the refugees. My parents worked in the nearby village and the money they earned they gave to the tutor. When my parents died, there was no more money, so I had to stop.

"During the day, I pray five times. In the winter we at least can sit in our house. The rest of the year it is too hot to stay inside. [He takes up the fan and waves it dispassionately.] This is what I am doing the whole day.

"My wife and I share this room with 10 people. We have no privacy. We cannot go out of the camp; I cannot work. Life here is like jail."

Trishna
65 years old at the Nayapara Camp

"In 1992 we came to Bangladesh. First we stayed in Dumdumiah camp then in 1998 we came to Nayapara. We are 13 in my house.

"I came to Bangladesh because I am Hindu. In Burma, there are almost no Hindus. The Burmese government tells us, 'You are not from Burma', but we were born in Burma.

"My husband was a hairdresser in Burma; he had a salon. I was selling traditional medicines and was a traditional birth attendant (TBA). I still work as a TBA [with MSF].

"Yes, things are a little better in the camp. In the beginning, the camp officials tortured us, there was no freedom. One time, they tried to send us back. Now, we are feeling safe, also for our children.

"Our main problem in the camp is the food ration. Last week we got more rice but less oil. If we want vegetables, we must buy from the villagers. The villagers come to the camp and sell their vegetables in the camp. Another problem is marriage. I have to marry two sons. One is already 30 years old. But I have no money, and there are no Hindus in the camp. Marrying somebody from outside is difficult.

"Another problem is our house. Our house needs to be repaired and is too small. One son and his wife live with us, but we only have one room.

"We have no nationality. That is another problem."

Abdul Hassan
55 years old at the Nayapara Camp

"We are 12 in my family: four sons, two daughters, two daughters-in-law, two grandchildren, my wife and myself. I came to Bangladesh in 1992. Back in Burma I used to be a farmer and I did some fishing.

"I came to Bangladesh because the government had taken our land. As a Muslim, I could not pray freely. Many women were sexually abused. Life in Bangladesh is better than in Burma. We feel safe here; also my children feel safe here.

"I wake up at 5 o'clock in the morning to go to the mosque. Sometimes I go to the forest to collect firewood. The only thing I do is pray. I do not move much in the camp, except to go to the mosque. If you move at night the police will ask you what you are doing. After midnight, it's a problem.

"Our house is small. We have one room for 12 people. My married sons have no room of their own. We have now divided our room into three very small rooms. We also have extended the house. There's no room for a garden. We have to sell some dahl and oil to get vegetables and other things.

"The last 10 years in the camp life has improved. There have been police shootings with deaths in the past. The repatriation was forced and now not anymore. The water improved only since last week. The latrines are good, but too far away from the sheds for the women. The women cannot move freely without a burqua. Separate latrines for women would be very good.

"What do I want for the future? Democracy in Burma, God willing. I am an old man and I will die in a few years. So I hope I can settle my children in Burma before I die. I am always thinking about when we can return. But the situation in Burma is still not good. We have still some relatives in Burma and they live in crisis. Some of them came four years ago to Bangladesh.

"I hope for a good situation in Burma, that the Muslims can pray their prayers, that my children can get an education. Only the Myanmar government can solve our problem."

Morium Begum
18 years old at the Nayapara Camp

"I have been in Nayapara since the beginning. I came when I was small, only eight years old, with my mother, five brothers, and one sister. We left because the soldiers would torture my brothers. My father stayed behind. He used to be an animal farmer. I don't have any contact with him, though I would like to. But it is too dangerous to visit him in Burma.

"I wake up at 5 a.m., pray, prepare food for the family, then clean up. During the day, I weave fishing nets. It takes around three months to make one net. I give it to someone to sell it. I can earn 200 takas per net. The extra money helps us to buy extra food, because we never have enough.

"In the evening, I cook, eat, pray, then sleep at 9 p.m. At 9 p.m. there is a curfew. We can still go out to use the latrine: if we walk with a water pot in our hand, then the police knows. But we cannot move around the camp for other things. For me, the latrine is close to my shed, so it is not a problem for me. For other women, if their shed is far, then it can be dangerous. At night, I take a kerosene lamp or candles. But we don't have enough kerosene in our ration.

"We don't go outside the camp. We are not allowed. I'm afraid that our names will be taken off the ration books. And it is costing more to go out. It used to be 5 takas; now it is 10. For the future, I want to give my children an education. For myself also. I did not go to school in Burma or in the camps."

Mehraz
35 years old at the Kutupalong Camp

"We left Burma because we were tortured by the army. The soldiers came looking for my husband after they killed his brother. The soldiers accused him of stealing fish from their pond. But it was our pond. The Rakhine villagers also would take our crops and animals. The soldiers would come at night and beat us. Several women in my village were taken in the night. My husband was taken to work for the soldiers for one month. They beat him if he couldn't do the work or refused to do it. When he returned, we left in the middle of the night.

"I used to be a tailor in Burma. I even had my own sewing machine. My husband was a rice farmer.

"Still I remember those days, and I feel upset. I was very sad to leave my home.

"I am not happy here. My husband is in jail; my children are growing up in a camp. I cannot give the fish my children ask for. I have so much pain inside, so much tension. Our food is not enough. If my husband were here, at least he could try to work one time a week to get some money to buy more food and support the family. I cannot visit him or send him a message. We had 20 years a family life together. Now I am sorry for him - I worry about him; now I raise my children alone. I am alone.

"I always think about my children and their future. How will I support them? I want to provide them a good education. That is my dream. And for me, I want to have a sewing machine and sew and work. But I cannot do anything now. I am in this camp. I want to go back to my home."

Mohamed Salim
45 years old at the Kutupalong Camp

"My wife died three months ago. The sickness started with diarrhoea. She died of typhoid in the clinic of the MOH [Ministry of Health facility].

"I miss her. How can I forget her? We have nine children together.

"It is difficult for me now, because I have to stay inside to look after my children. We do not have enough food, but I cannot leave the camp to find work. I always think about what to do for my family. I am worried about my children. Every week, people from the camp office come to tell me that my name is on the list to go back to Burma. But I do not want to go back. My relatives tell me there is still no law and order there, that there is still violence. So I am afraid to be forced back. When it is safe, we will go back.

"I am happy that most of my children can now go to school. My 12-year-old daughter makes these cloth decorations from the sewing instruments her sister received from the [WFP] women's programme. It keeps her busy during her free time. Our house is a little more colourful with these decorations. That is a good thing."