THEIR ages probably range from four to seven years old and their only entertainment is to roam around the camp, which in the scorching afternoon can see temperatures rising to as high as 38 degrees celcius.
I have been seeing them every day for the past five days and I still can’t get used to it. Their eyes pierce you as they stare right into yours. They don’t have anything to do except wait for the days to go by.
The camp is the Kutupalong Rohingya Refugee camp in Ukhiya, Bangladesh, just kilometres from the border with Burma (Myanmar). The current population of the camp is around 800,000. More than 600,000 people have arrived in less than 3 months.
I’ve been volunteering with Mercy Malaysia, a medical NGO, for a long time and my last mission with them was in 2006 after the earthquake in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. They are currently in the camp with volunteer doctors giving medical aid to the Rohingya.
Many are familiar with the Rohingya crisis. They are the world’s most unwanted people and globally, there are about 2 million of them. Originating from Rakhine in Myanmar, they are not recognised as citizens by the government and they have been violently persecuted for decades.
Over the years, exodus has seen Rohingya refugees land in Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, India, Nepal and even Canada and the United States. But of course, the largest group remains in Bangladesh and Kutupalong is the biggest refugee camp in the world.
I am not a doctor but a mere journalist. So when Mercy asks me to go along on one of their missions, the only thing that I can offer is to document the stories and get it out to the world so that people are aware and realise that something needs to be done to help.
That is as much as I can do and even though I do it to the best of my abilities, there is a little bit of distress in me. My mission lasts for two weeks, and right after that, I return to my home to my two daughters and continue with normal life.
I have a comfortable house with air-conditioning, fast Internet, all the food my family needs. Each of my kids have a room of their own and a playroom filled with toys. I have a study filled with my gadgets, cameras and books.
Life is good and I have managed to make a decent living and provide for my family. I was able to gain an education and to pursue the career of my choice. I have enough every year to give myself and my family little luxuries that we enjoy.
Now back to the children who stare at me at the Kutupalong camp in Ukhiya. After my two-week stay, I leave, but they will still be there. They will still have nothing more to do everyday except wait for the day to end by roaming around the camp.
The camp has been there for decades and there is now a full adult generation that was born and raised there. They aren’t allowed to leave the camp, let alone work. They rely on hand-outs and nothing more.
The camp’s facilities are rudimentary. There is no electricity aside from solar powered lamp posts that come on at night. They get their water from wells and it is not treated. There is no sewerage or waste management system.
There are 800,000 of them all cramped in an area that is only 2,000 acres (809.37ha). Malnutrition and diseases like cholera and conjunctivitis are rampant. These are not conditions that a human being should be living in.
Housing is extremely basic. Those who have been living there for many years have built houses out of clay and mud. Newer arrivals live under bamboo structures and tarpaulin sheets. They roast in the daytime heat and shiver in the nighttime chill.
The world needs to do more. We can’t continue our lives like nothing is going on. I urge everyone in this world to pay attention – the Rohingya are counting on us.
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