P.K.BALACHANDRAN | 24 SEPTEMBER, 2017
Rohingya: 3rd Largest Exodus Since 1947 in South Asia Carries Terrified Orphans, Pregnant Women
COLOMBO: It’s women and children among the 422,000 Rohingya refugees, who the world must attend to urgently, when dealing with the exodus from Myanmar.
According to a report in The Guardian from the No Man’s Land between Myanmar and Bangladesh, 80% were females and children, while Bangladesh High Commission sources put the figure at over 60%.
Among the refugees so far, 18,000 are pregnant mothers. Worse is the fact that as many as 1,312 children had arrived in Bangladesh without any family members.
Some were orphans. In other cases, they had lost their parents in the melee.
More than 400 babies were born in the No Man’s Land in the past 15 days, The Guardian reports. And according to the Bangladesh Health Minister, Mohammed Nasim, government nurses and midwives have so far delivered 173 babies.
Therefore, the third largest exodus to take place in the Indian sub-continent since 1947 has a humongous gender and child security dimension which the three countries of the region and the world cannot ignore for long.
“Rohingya women are unaware of birth control methods. They did not receive health services in Myanmar,” Nasim told BDNews24 on Thursday.
Health workers have been distributing contraceptives among the refugees, such as condoms, birth-control pills and injections that stop ovulation for up to three months.
Suraiya Sultan, 25, was waiting in a 500-yard-long strip of mud when she went into labor. As her contractions increased, Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) took her on to a boat, where she gave birth to her daughter, Ayesha, under a makeshift sari canopy.
“Sick and exhausted, mother and baby were taken to the Nayapara camp to seek medical assistance. Camp officer Mohd Mominul Haq told The Guardian.
They had received many others in a similar position and that their condition was critical.
“We are trying our best to help them, but the situation is beyond our capacity,” Haq said.
Mothers have died during childbirth; others gave birth only to watch helplessly as their newborns died from sickness and poor camp conditions, The Guardian reports. .
Masum Bhadur, 28, lost her son. “He had a fever and wouldn’t stop shaking,” Masum said sobbing. Her husband Abu Bakr, 35, went to find help, but when he returned the baby was dead.
There is no proper burial ground in the vicinity, as all available space is being used to erect make-shift shelters. So Abu Bakr dug a small grave in the forest nearby and buried their three year old son.
Another woman did not know what to do with her dead baby. After carrying her boy with her for two days, she slipped him into the Naf river.
Manzur Kadir Ahmed, CEO of Gonoshasthaya Kendra (People’s Health Centre), said that the mothers were unable to breastfeed their babies because of a lack of enough food and water.
While UNICEF is seeking help from across the world, Myanmar has blocked all aid-worker access to civilians in Rakhine, including babies and pregnant women.
Nazmul Ahasan, writing in the Dhaka-based Daily Star points that many children, who witnessed the brutality or lost their dear ones, are traumatized.
“There are those, who, after a long exhausting journey by foot, didn't sleep and eat for days. In the chaotic temporary camps, where the struggle to get their hands on food is so intense that three people already died in a stampede, malnourished children and women barely stand a chance.”
Ahasan quotes aid agencies to say that amidst the very unhygienic conditions at the camps and extreme shortage of clean water and basic sanitation, children are being exposed to water-borne diseases that could prove fatal.
The Bengali daily Prothom Alo reported that as much as 85 percent of children are already suffering from different kinds of diseases.
The most vulnerable of all are the unaccompanied minors.
“We are particularly concerned about the separated children,” Jean-Jacques Simon of UNICEF South Asia told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“Trafficking, child labour, exploitation—you name it - these children are vulnerable,” Simon said.
(Cover Photograph Courtesy International Rescue Committee)