Life for people fleeing violence in Myanmar does not get any easier when they reach Bangladesh, as Corinne Ambler reports.
At the age of 25, Rajuma Khatun is a mother, a widow, and without a home. She is also exhausted.
The mother-of-two has barely eaten or slept since arriving in Bangladesh, having fled the violence in Myanmar.
It took her family seven days to travel from their home in Rakhine State to the relative safety of a settlement in Thangkhali, near the border.
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“We came by foot and by boat and had to pay money,” she says, sitting in a makeshift shelter with only a plastic sheet for protection from the monsoon rain.
“We had trouble crossing the river – there was mud, and no food, no food for the children.”
Rajuma shares the shelter with 17 other members of her extended family, including her blind father-in-law.
The family has been in Thangkhali for three days now and there is still no food. The children pick at grains of raw rice from an aid package – the family has no way to cook it.
Today there’s a glimmer of hope. A Bangladesh Red Crescent medical team has set itself up near the family’s shelter. Rajuma has been able to take several sick relatives for free advice and medication.
“My father-in-law he’s got a stomach ache but he got medicine from the Red Crescent and he’s feeling better,” she says.
“My baby has a fever and skin rash, but he’s also feeling better after I gave him the medicine.”
Rajuma explains her family still has many problems and wants to move somewhere more sheltered.
“I have no food, no water, no shelter and no money to buy anything. We’ve been here for three days now and there’s still no food,” she says.
“This is not a good shelter – I don’t know how I’m going to stay here. We will have to leave today to find somewhere less muddy.”
Trauma and ill health
Rajuma and her family are among 422,000 people who have fled Myanmar to Bangladesh in just under four weeks.
Imagine a city the size of Bristol on the move and you begin to realise the sheer numbers behind this crisis.
Dr Mohsin Ahmed, who runs the Red Crescent mobile medical clinic, says food, water and shelter are still the main concerns of the people he is seeing, most of whom are women and children.
“Even though we are concentrating on their health they are asking for shelter and food. They have fever, diahorrea, bronchial and respiratory infections, as well as malnutrition,” he explains.
“They also have psychological trauma. We saw one boy of eight years old with gunshot wounds to his hand and abdomen.
“The wounds were infected. But more noticeably he had mental trauma, so we asked him to come back today so we can help him with some psychosocial support. But he hasn’t come back yet.”
High numbers of pregnant women and new-born babies have prompted Dr Mohsin to look for a midwife to join the team, which sees more than 200 people daily.
As well as distributing water, food, hygiene kits and shelter materials, the Red Crescent is building toilets.
The unsanitary conditions mean the risk of disease outbreak is high. Toilets, clean water and hand-washing facilities are vital to prevent outbreaks.
The International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent (IFRC) is also planning to increase the medical response with additional mobile medical teams and possibly a field hospital.
- The British Red Cross has launched an urgent appeal to help people affected by violence in Myanmar. Please donate today.
- Read more: “Unbearable conditions” facing families fleeing Myanmar violence
Corinne Ambler is an IFRC communications delegate in Bangladesh.