The arrival of 626,000 Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh since August 2017 has taken place at a speed not witnessed since the Rwandan refugee crisis in 1994.
More than half of the refugees are women and girls.
There are 120,000 pregnant women and new mothers.
Shompa*, Marjina* and Kahinoor* are three such women.
Each of them experienced their own harrowing journey to reach the safety of the camps, each suffered unimaginable hardship and terror. Each gave birth far from home. These are their stories.
Shompa* lives with husband Mokter* and their daughter Iffat* – who is now one month old – in a tent in Balukhali refugee camp, Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh.
Shompa explains, “I was six months pregnant when the emergency began. Rohingya houses were being attacked and burned.
“My husband’s father decided that it wasn’t safe to stay. We walked and walked through the forest. It was horrible … The path was very steep and in my condition walking for nine days was really hard.
“On the way we were attacked and some of our neighbours were killed.”
I could never have imagined that I would end up having my baby in Bangladesh.
“I was so afraid for my baby. I worried that I would give birth too soon.”
Shompa managed to rendezvous with her husband at the border and cross into Bangladesh on 6 September. Two months later she gave birth in the health centre in the refugee camp.
“The labour was extremely painful and I suffered a lot,” she recalls. “But when my daughter was born I saw she was healthy and I was happy. She was beautiful.
We left home with nothing. Our daughter is the most important thing we have now. She means more to me than wealth, more than property or any other riches.
My mother and mother-in-law are teaching me how to care for the baby, how to clean her and change her clothes. She only sleeps when I hold her, and wakes up when I put her down, so I’m very tired. But I am no longer afraid.”
Marjina* lives with her husband in their tent in Balukhali refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. They have a five-year-old son, Rahul*, a two-year old daughter, Sabakur* and now a two-month-old daughter, Asma*.
This is Marjina story in her own words:
“I was eight months pregnant when they came. It was just before dawn and we were sleeping. We heard gunshots and looked outside to work out what was happening. When we saw the house was on fire we had to pick up the children and run. As we ran through the forest they shot at us. My disabled aunt couldn’t run and she died in the flames.
“The journey to the border was terrible. For ten days we walked. We went over ten hills. I was heavily pregnant and I didn’t have any energy. My ankles were swollen and painful. I found sticks in the forest to help me walk. Sometimes I slipped and fell. When I couldn’t walk any more my relatives carried me. My mother carried my daughter.
“I was with my parents, my mother-in-law, my husband and my children. None of us had any shoes. We didn’t have time to bring them. Our feet were cut and sore.
“Finally we came to the river. We paid a fisherman to take us to the other side in his boat. I was so weak I couldn’t even hold up my head. I thought I was going to die. When we reached the refugee camp I collapsed. I was in hospital for three days.
“One month later I gave birth to my daughter, in the tent where I live with my family. This birth was more difficult than my other children. I think the hard journey had made me weak. Thankfully my baby was born healthy.
I am surprised that my daughter is healthy after what we have been through. I give thanks that we are all alive.
“Conditions in the camp are not good. I don’t have nutritious food to give the children. They used to be so healthy and now look at them. My son keeps crying that he is hungry and asking me for food. I feel bad because I can’t provide for them. We don’t have any money.
“We sleep on the floor with only a blanket. I worry that I’m not able to care for my baby properly.
“When I think about my home I feel like weeping. But I control my tears because I don’t want to upset the children. Crying won’t bring back the things we have lost. Everything we owned is burned and destroyed.
“I don’t see much hope for the future in Myanmar. They are killing us, raping us, torturing us. I don’t want to go back there.
“In Bangladesh I don’t see any hope unless we can improve the way we are living. I want to give my children everything that I didn’t have. A good education, safety. I didn’t go to school. My family were too poor. I don’t want my baby to lead the same life as me.”
Kahinoor* and her husband fled to Cox’s Bazar, Bangldesh. They have eight children, including her six-week old son Manik*.
Kahinoor says, “When I realised I was pregnant I had mixed emotions. I already have seven children and this new baby wasn’t planned.
“At the end of August the massacres began. Our house was on top of a hill and we could see villages burning down below. There were so many fires.”
I was seven months pregnant. I was so big and heavy that I couldn’t walk properly but we had no choice. We were running for our lives.
“We heard the sound of gunshots. We saw so many dead bodies, too many to count.
“When they saw blood the children cried. They were afraid of being killed.”
It took Kahinoor eight days to reach the border. Her brothers supported her when she was too tired to stand. Her legs were swollen. The soles of her feet were bleeding.
I didn’t know if the baby was alive or dead. The children were exhausted. I didn’t think I would make it to Bangladesh.
Kahinoor and her family reached the refugee camp in early September. In November she gave birth on the floor of her tent.
She says, “When I saw my baby was alive and healthy I was so relieved.
“I want this baby to have a better life than my other sons. They weren’t allowed to get a good education so they work as day labourers. They work very hard for little money. In Myanmar we always faced discrimination. It made me sad to see the children suffer. But we were powerless.
“Some neighbours who came to the refugee camp recently told me that my house had been burned down. We only built it a year ago and now it’s destroyed.
“Living in the refugee camp isn’t perfect. We get rations of dry rice but we don’t have money to buy fresh vegetables or other food. It’s becoming difficult to look after the children properly.
I think our life here is better than in Myanmar. I don’t want to go back. How can we go back? I don’t feel safe there.”
*Names have been changed
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