Almost 60 per cent of refugees who’ve arrived in Bangladesh since August 25 are aged under 18, some 378,000 children. Many witnessed brutal violence and killing. Some saw their villages burnt to the ground.
More than 2680 children have been separated from their parents, either orphaned or lost in the chaos of escape from Myanmar. This is a children’s emergency of the highest order.
In December, Plan International, Save the Children and World Vision held a series of in-depth consultations with 200 children and 40 mothers affected by the crisis. The stories they shared reveal that girls are especially vulnerable, with violence and trafficking a constant threat. They’ve gone from living in a community where they had close friends, a routine and safe places to play, to a chaotic, overcrowded and frightening place where they are confined to small tents for most of the day.
When asked what they need to improve their lives, children were very clear: they want to learn and play, feel safe, eat and live healthily, and for their families to earn an income. Some suggested practical improvements like better lighting to make is safer to go to the toilet at night. Some wanted bigger shelters enabling greater privacy. Almost all wanted to go to school.
Sabuka*, 13, arrived in the camp three months ago. Her mother was killed as they made the terrible trek over the border, leaving her in the care of her aunt.
“I don’t like anything here. I want to go back to my own country,” she says.
“We have no warm clothes for the cold nights and we are very far from our home. Our neighbours gave us some plates and jugs, but there is very little firewood. When we run out, we burn leaves to cook.”
Sabuka collects firewood every few days. It’s a three hour walk each way into the jungle. She walks with a group of five or six girls around her age for safety, but still, she is scared.
“I am afraid but we have to have firewood so we can eat. I am scared of the men, that’s why we all go together. Nothing has happened to us yet because we stick together. I cut the wood myself and carry it back with me.”
The biggest worry is food and warmth now that temperatures are dropping overnight in the camp. They live at the top of a steep embankment in a typical tarp and bamboo dwelling, where the temperature plunges as the sun sets.
* Name changed to protect identity