Photostory: The unending Rohingya exodus

15 Mar 18

More than six months into the latest Rohingya exodus, people continue to flee from Myanmar into Bangladesh fearing for their lives in search of safety.

A total of 3,236 refugees are reported to have entered Bangladesh in February alone, bringing the total number of new arrivals in 2018 to more than 5,000, according to UNHCR.

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They add to the nearly 700,000 that have reached this country since 25 August and to the more than 900,000 of total refugees, including those who arrived during different periods of tension in Myanmar.

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The majority of the new arrivals are redirected by the authorities to the Sabrang entry point, in the south of Cox's Bazar peninsula.

Here, MSF runs a daily mobile clinic which provides health check-ups, general healthcare and nutritional screening for all new arrivals. 

On 7 March 2018, 88 families – a total of 332 people – arrived at Sabrang in different groups, in what was the biggest peak after several weeks.

Some of them mentioned that between 600 and 1,000 others were waiting to get a boat across the Naf River. One group had been attacked on their journey by thieves, who beat them and stole their possessions. These are some of their stories.

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Mohammed Rafiq and his family arrived near Sabrang on the Bangladeshi side of the Naf river after crossing the border from Myanmar on 7 March 2018. On 3 March, they left their village in Buthidaung township and started walking in the direction of the river.

“Day by day, things kept getting worse. We could no longer reach our land so we left for Bangladesh. We don’t have any relatives here.”

A group of 39 Rohingya refugees arrive on the Bangladeshi side of the Naf river after crossing the border from Myanmar on 7 March 2018. The night before they had been held in the Magpara area by the Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB).

Mohamad Salif arrived with his family of four; he is also taking care of a six-year-old boy who has lost contact with his family. Among the group of refugees, there is also a 24-year-old woman with her two-month-old baby.

“Three days ago, we left our village Ali Chaung, in Buthidaung township. We were waiting on the beach for one day as there were not boats available. We arrived here yesterday night,” says Mohamad Salif.

Noor Lamin, 25, and his 70-year-old mother Subi Katum arrive near Sabrang on the Bangladeshi side of the Naf river after crossing the border from Myanmar on 7 March 2018.

“The situation is really difficult and it has become complicated for us to move. It’s impossible to work or even to go to the market to buy food. My brother is still in Myanmar. He couldn’t get hold of enough money to cross – it costs 50,000 Kyat per person [about £26.50].

“He is living there with two children and his wife. The journey took about three days. When we left our village Hórmurá fara, in Buthidaung township, it was night-time. We arrived on the river bank and had to wait 12 hours. We stayed on the beach in Donkhali. We left all our belongings, we just brought with us a few clothes, nothing more.”

Subi Katum, 70, arrives near Sabrang on the Bangladeshi side of the Naf river after crossing the border from Myanmar on 7 March 2018.

“My husband was killed and my daughter’s husband disappeared. Many people have been killed or are lost. I hope all of this will finish one day but I can’t tell what the future holds.

“Like many others, we were obliged to abandon our villages, our houses, our land, our animals. People are desperate to leave but many don’t have any possibility. I feel exhausted and unable to walk. I haven’t eaten for three days. It’s very hard.”

One-month-old Noor Farema is the youngest person to arrive at the border point in Sabrang on 7 March 2018 after being carried across the Naf river by her mother, Noor Ankis. Her father disappeared five months earlier. The mother and child left their village in Buthidaung township and travelled alone.

Alima arrives near Sabrang on the Bangladeshi side of the Naf river after crossing the border from Myanmar on 7 March  2018. Alima is from a village in Buthidaung township. She arrived with her 70-year-old mother Subi Katum and her two small children, four-year-old Morfaisal and two-year-old Sadeka Abibi.  

“Before the crisis, I led a very simple life. We survived off a small farm and my husband’s business. Five months ago my husband disappeared - I don’t know if he left, was arrested or just killed.

“Everyone was trying to save their own lives and many people are lost. It took three days to walk to Bangladesh. When we reached the shore of the river, we had to wait several hours to get on a boat and arrive here.”

Majida Katun arrives near Sabrang on the Bangladeshi side of the Naf river after crossing the border from Myanmar on 7 March 2018. Majida is from a village in Buthidaung township. She arrived with her husband and three small children, the youngest just two months old.

“We thought a lot about whether leaving was the right solution. We were waiting for months and finally we decided to leave. Everyone in our village has left. My husband used to fish, but recently it became impossible to work. It was also extremely difficult to find the money - we had to sell everything we owned.

“We left our place three days ago. I don’t know if we will go back. If we know that the situation will improve, we will go back.”

Jamintan Noor, 78, arrives near Sabrang on the Bangladeshi side of the Naf river after crossing the border from Myanmar on 7 March 2018. She left her village in Buthidaung township.

“Over the past three months I was feeling very sick. I couldn’t reach the hospital. If you try to travel, they arrest you or they block you at the checkpoint. I couldn’t get any medical care, any kind of medicines, any help. We decided that it was better to leave and look for help here in Bangladesh.

“After leaving, we arrived on the beach. There were some organisations there distributing food. We had to wait three days because there were no boats available. We left with a boat full of people: we were around 30 or 40 people inside.

“The crossing took between seven and eight hours. They were firing from the beach and we hid in the boat. In Myanmar, we left other people on the river bank. I hope they will come in the next few days. My three sons are there - I hope they will join us in the coming days.’’

Annuar and Nusima Atun arrive near Sabrang on the Bangladeshi side of the Naf river after crossing the border from Myanmar on 7 March 2018. They left their village in Buthidaung township.

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