As human beings, each time we see human suffering we are moved. We are created in such a way to connect with people. When I went to Bangladesh, seeing those who lost everything when they came from Myanmar was heartbreaking.
The moment you enter the camp at Cox’s Bazaar, you are plunged into confusion – millions of people,different aid agencies trying to help. It’s a chaotic place.
It’s important to know that Bangladesh is not a very rich country. There is a large population already living in poverty. So, on top of all these existing challenges they’re suddenly faced with taking care of more than a million people in desperate need of shelter, food, water and protection.
Before this crisis, Cox’s Bazaar was not a densely populated place – they had a peaceful life here. Now there are thousands of people coming here – every day. Everything is disturbed, not only for refugees but also for the locals.
Currently there are 1.2 million people living in fragile, temporary shelters and you can see vulnerability all over the camp. Sanitation facilities are horrible and drinking water is a major problem. Just imagine international communities trying to provide drinking water for 1.2 million people – the need and the difficulties are immense.
Despite the chaos of it all, the moment you stop to sit and talk with those who have fled their homes, that’s when the stories come out. That’s when you hear of the turmoil and pain that many have faced on their journey to Bangladesh.
I spoke to so many people who have lost loved ones. Children who have lost both parents. A mother who lost her only child.
I met one family who told me of their life in Myanmar. The father, Muhammed, explained that they were not living in poverty before they came to Bangladesh. They owned eight cows and earned a living through farming and selling cows’ milk in their community.
As Muhammed was explaining what life was like beforehand, it made me realise how quickly someone’s life can completely change. Everything you have in your hands – your livelihood, your future, your dreams –shattered in an instant.
That’s the biggest challenge for a lot of these families.
Another family told me about their journey from Rakhine state in Myanmar to Cox’s Bazaar.
The mother, Rabia, explained that everything was taken away. They searched her entire body for valuables and her ear was ripped when they took her earrings. She was horrified that strange men were touching her all over.
As she remembered the journey, the fear was written all over her face. She described the days of hunger and complete uncertainty. Safety at the camp is also a concern for many families. Although the family have fled violence, refugee camps can be dangerous too.
This is why many aid agencies are creating child friendly spaces, to help provide women and children with a safe environment. They’re places for women to talk, express their fears and concerns and build that peer support network. It’s critical – but as the camp grows in size, it is becoming increasingly difficult to keep women and children safe.
Rabia says her biggest fear is not having enough food, water or proper shelter. This is a major problem for all those who have been forced to leave their homes.
The father Musafa told me that before this started, he was a tailor. “I was not poor, I had a good tailoring business. I worked in a decent place, and I had a good ongoing business. But now everything is gone. Everything has been burned.In our entire life, we never got food from anyone else – we always had our own food – we provided for ourselves,” Says Musafa.
This is not the story of one family, or two. It is not hundreds or thousands – it is what millions are experiencing.
As Australians if we were in this type of situation how we would face it? How would we take care of our family, how we would look at our future?
I think we need to have empathy to help us look at these people, irrespective of their nationality, their religion, their culture, their gender.
Everyone I met just wanted to have a normal life. Nobody wants to be in that camp.
I think sometimes people believe that refugees and displaced people want to depend on someone else, but that’s not the case at all.
These people have dignity, honour, a future. They want to go back to their homes and have their own life back. They want to start their own businesses again and go back to their farms. They want to send their kids to school and have a normal life.
Just like anyone, they want to live in peace and for their children to have a future.