Rohingya refugee crisis: “I want to be educated and become a doctor”
Published 3rd July 2020
Doctors of the World/Médecins du Monde is responding to COVID-19 in the sprawling refugee camps of Cox’s Bazar, southeastern Bangladesh, which are home to about one million Rohingya refugees.
Our teams work with Rohingya volunteers and our local partner PULSE Bangladesh to improve healthcare in the camps and raise awareness about COVID-19 so that residents can protect themselves.
Tasmin (not her real name) is a young Rohingya woman who has volunteered as a youth educator. She shared her story with us, just prior to COVID-19’s arrival in Cox’s Bazar.
“We Rohingya are a minority ethnic group who have lived in Rakhine State, Myanmar, for many years. The Myanmar government has been denying our rights and persecuting us.
Following the massive armed conflict that took place on 25 August 2017, I evacuated to Bangladesh to seek asylum. It’s been three years since then. People live in harsh conditions and in an overcrowded camp.
I came to Bangladesh with six family members, we are from a village located in Buthidaung Township in Myanmar. The seven of us live cramped in a tiny hut that doesn’t even have a sleeping area.
My day begins with getting up at 5 am and exercising for 20 minutes. After that, we do the first prayer of the day (salat, a ritual Muslim prayer) then I assist my mother in making breakfast, and at 9.20 am I am heading to work (volunteer work). I get back home at 4 pm and study in the evening.
“We face challenge after challenge”
When I was in Myanmar, I was a student and attended high school. I was forced to evacuate due to violence and I could not finish the ninth grade, let alone graduation.
In Myanmar, Rohingya and Muslims were not allowed to receive higher education. Not only that but many other things were restricted, for instance, we didn’t have freedom of movement.
“We Rohingya want justice to be made, to regain citizenship and return to Myanmar. I don’t want to live as a refugee without any guarantee of life.”
The camps have playgrounds and learning centres for children run by support groups, but those facilities are not suitable for people my age. Like me, many Rohingya spend almost three years in camps without being educated.
I am still young and single. However, I cannot get an education, especially higher education, even at the camp. Here too, we face challenge after challenge, struggling for education and for our rights.
When it is hot, it gets very hot here. It is too hot to stay in the hut. And if it rains, floods, strong winds, and landslides will occur.
A sense of purpose
Since May 2019, I have been working as a volunteer for Médecins du Monde (MdM) Japan. My role is to engage in outreach activities and go around the designated places. Providing outreach in all the designated places is difficult, but it is a task that gives you a sense of mission, it gives you a purpose.
I don’t hate my mission but at the end of the day when I am exhausted, I have to return to an empty shelter, where even resting is difficult. I am a refugee and I live in a refugee camp.
Sometimes it’s hard to remember the dreams I used to have as a child.
As an MdM Japan volunteer youth educator, I receive training and education on diverse health and community topics, such as sexual and gender-based violence, sexual and reproductive health, mental health, nutrition, family planning, maternal and child health, diarrhoea and dehydration, sanitation and hygiene, malaria and dengue, health education, first aid, and more.
I feel very grateful to have had this opportunity to learn.
The United Nations World Food Programme distributes rice, dal beans, and cooking oil, but it is not enough. Many refugees are unable to go out and work, and suffer for their survival.
Toilets are far away from our hut and it is not safe in the camp. Until now, several women have been kidnapped and not yet found. The violence and tragedy that took place on 25 August 2017, left a deep scar on our hearts.
I still don’t really know what is happening to me. We can see physical damage but the pain, despair, and sorrow we feel in our hearts are invisible to the eye.
Many women and girls were raped. Many villagers, children, and relatives have been killed by the army. A fire was set in the village and most of the buildings were destroyed.
My brother, grandfather, and cousin died in a shootout. The house where I lived was also burned by the army and Rakhine people.
The journey to safety
Realising that for our safety, we should not be there anymore, packing a few days’ worth of food, we started walking towards Bangladesh.
Ten days after we left, we finished all the food we had brought. Along the way, it rained heavily and I was hungry.
I saw many dead bodies in the forest.
After 21 days, I finally reached the bank of the Naf River and crossed the river with a rowing boat. We arrived on the Bangladesh side but were not allowed to enter the country.
“I am a refugee and I live in a refugee camp. Sometimes it’s hard to remember the dreams I used to have as a child.”
We had nothing: no food, no clothes, no money, but some local Bangladeshis offered my family food and gave us shirts. I was also able to receive treatment at the hospital.
There are no words of gratitude to the government and the people of Bangladesh. After all, I stayed at the border for almost a month and then came to this camp where I am now, once again, locked in a prison but this time without a roof.
Hope for the future
Camps are full of problems such as no education, internet access restrictions, travel restrictions, cramped living spaces, and not enough medical facilities. In addition, fences were installed around the camp, just as they were in Myanmar.
We need support from international non-governmental organisations such as MdM and PULSE. We hope for improvement and that higher education will be provided, restrictions on movement will be removed, living conditions and medical access will be improved, and people will be able to live with peace of mind.
From now on I want to think about the future. My activities with MdM Japan and PULSE Bangladesh are also useful for the community, and I would like them to continue their activities in the future, and to continue being involved in them.
We Rohingya want justice to be made, to regain citizenship and return to Myanmar. I don’t want to live as a refugee without any guarantee of life.
In the future, I want to be educated and become a doctor. As a young woman, I am very happy and grateful that I was able to play a role.