Tafrida, World Food Program worker now a Rohingya refugee
Published : 12 Sep 2017, 13:02
Ukhiya is now an overcrowded upazila in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar.Palongkhali is the union council of the upazila . There are now crowds everywhere, in the area of forests, hills and sea shores. After Kutupalong, another Rohingya camp was constructed at Balukhali of Palongkhali.
Like any other Bangladesh-Myanmar border points, Rohingya families are fleeing violence in their own country Myanmar and entering neibouring Bangladesh through the Anjuman Para, a hamlet of Palongkhali. There is a Bangladesh Border Guard (BGB) camp in the border point. Green paddy fields are on one side of the village and the River Naf on another side. And after the Naf, the hill is in sight. Local residents and Rohingya people have named the hill as ‘Kalapahar’. The hill is now another name of horror among the Rohingya people. During the Eid-ul-Azha and after the Eid, local people of the village witnessed the smoke rising behind the hill. That identified the doubt that the village was burning.
There are no trees in the vast paddy fields. In a fine morning on 11 September, it was seen that a long rows of Rohingya people, including children, women and old people were entering Anjuman Para through the aisle of fields. However, the numbers of young Rohingya people were very few. About 20 to 25 families were seen sitting near the green field. They looked exhausted and shattered after finishing their long toiling in search of safe place. They were carrying bags, sacks and different types of emergency valuables.
Tafrida, in his early twenties, one of the newly arrived Rohingyas, was sitting near the field along with her family members. She was feeding a ripe banana to her niece.
When the journalist went to her and asked questions, she exhaustedly started to respond the queries in English. The journalist has talked to many newly arrived refugees but none of them speak in English.
‘You can speak in English?’ the journalist asked Tafrida with surprise.
Taking a deep breath she said, ‘I have an educated family. We’re here from Buchidang in Rakhine State. I can speak English. Before coming here, I worked as community teacher under a project run by World Food Programme (WFP) in Myanmar’s Rakhine State.’
The WFP is the food-assistance branch of the United Nations and the world’s largest humanitarian organization addressing hunger and promoting food security.
‘After passing the higher secondary level examinations with a science background in 2012, I joined the WFP. I wish I could be a university graduate. But we have no rights for education and government work.’
Tafrida depicted her agony saying, ‘We’re three siblings. I’m here with my mother, Tahera Begum, my elder brother, Mohammad Aref, his wife and daughter, and my younger sister Fatema. We had a respected and lovely family there. I tought little children with great enthusiasm and joy. I have led a very simple and quite life, dreaming the government would give us citizenship one day and I would be able to take admission in university. But the Myanmar military soldiers and local Buddhists destroyed my dream, our happy family and our peaceful lives. When the military and local Buddhists commenced shooting at our village, we luckily escaped death and fled from our village on August 29. Some of our relatives saw right in front of their eyes that many people had been killed by the army. We took shelter on forests and were scared from the dangers in the jungle. From the jungle, we walked for five days until we reached the border. We crossed the border on a small boat, it felt very dangerous. After waiting some days at the border points, swimming and long walk, we crossed the border and now we are here in your country Bangladesh. I can’t even think that I was a teacher, fled from my motherland to save my dignity and life and now a helpless refugee, who don’t know where to go, where to sleep and where to live. I have no idea what our future will be now.’
The violence and exodus began on August 25 when Rohingya insurgents attacked Myanmar police and paramilitary posts in what they said was an effort to protect their ethnic minority from persecution by security forces in the majority Buddhist country.
In response, the military unleashed what it called ‘clearance operations’ to root out the insurgents. Accounts from the refugees show the Myanmar military is also targeting civilians with shootings and wholesale burning of Rohingya villages in an apparent attempt to purge Rakhine state of Muslims.
Bloody anti-Muslim rioting that erupted in 2012 in Rakhine state forced more than 100,000 Rohingya into displacement camps in Bangladesh, where many still live today. Rohingya have faced decades of discrimination and hounding in Myanmar and are denied citizenship despite centuries-olds roots in the Rakhine region. Myanmar denies Rohingya exist as an ethnic group and says those living in Rakhine are illegal migrants from Bangladesh.
However, she did not forget killing and arson attacks operated by the Myanmar military along local Buddhists.
‘Many of our unmarried girls were picked up, beaten, raped, tortured and killed by the Myanmar government’s soldiers and Mogs (Buddhists). Thanks to Allah as I escaped the horrible situations what nobody can believe without observing their own eyes. It's completely out of imagination to understand the real cause of rough behavior with the innocent people,’ Tafrida, who is also an unmarried girl, added.
Bursting into tears, the former WFP worker said, ‘Though we are in great trouble, I feel safe here. Thanks to your country (Bangladesh) for giving us (Rohingyas) shelter and saving our lives.’
Asked whether she and her family members want to go back to Myanmar, she said, ‘Despite having my motherland, we don’t want to back in the dead land. They will kill us. We want to survive.’
More than 300,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh from Buddhist-majority Myanmar since the latest violence began on August 25, joining more than 400,000 others already living there in cramped makeshift camps. The United Nations’ top human rights official on Monday slammed Myanmar for conducting a ‘cruel military operation’ against the Rohingya, branding it ‘a textbook example of ethnic cleansing’.
More than 1,000 people have been killed in Myanmar, most minority Rohingya Muslims, more than twice the government’s total. In the last two weeks alone 270,000 mostly Rohingya civilians have fled to Bangladesh, overwhelming refugee camps at Ukhia and Teknaf in Cox’s Bazar that were already bursting at the seams. The Rohingya have long been subjected to discrimination in mostly Buddhist Myanmar, which denies them citizenship. The Rohingyas are a stateless Muslim minority who has faced extreme poverty for decades.
The Burmese military entered northern Rakhine state—and over the next four months detained and killed men, women and children. The army men burned down houses and raped women and young girls. The UN report says these actions amount to possible crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing.
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