The Rohingya Refugee Crisis: Stories Of Survival

In August 2017, thousands of people from the Rohingya ethnic minority were targeted by the Myanmar military in a horrific campaign of violence

Many of the attacks began in the middle of the night or in the early hours of the morning

Whole villages were burned to the ground, children were shot and women were sexually assaulted. 700,000 Rohingya fled Myanmar as refugees across the border into Bangladesh. They settled in makeshift camps, some of the most densely populated in the world, with the few belongings they were able to carry during their escape.

Doctors of the World Japan started working in camp “1E”, also known as the Kutupalong camp, in partnership with Gonoshasthaya Kendra to strengthen the  community’s health infrastructure. Through community health workers, our teams provide access to vital medical care and mental health support. 

Our team spent time talking to Rohingya refugees living in the camp to learn about the daily obstacles they face in rebuilding their lives in the face of extreme adversity.

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Shamsu, 25

“Last summer, many horrible things happened. There were abductions, rapes, and murders. My cousin was killed as we were trying to escape. I also saw the military kill 5 people at once.” Shamsu has been living in the camps in Bangladesh since 2017 and continues to struggle to survive. “What I am having most trouble with in my life right now is food and clothes. Rice is distributed only once a month and most of the time I cannot cook because there is no electricity. I don’t even have a bucket to fetch water with. I am trying to survive these conditions but I am slowly losing patience and becoming more and more anxious.”

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Husson, 30

Husson has been working as a volunteer for Doctors of the World since the beginning of 2018. “The raid on our village started at 3am. I saw a child being thrown onto a fire, and my sister was raped. The violence continued for hours. We escaped by hiding in the mountains. On the way we found a 10 year old boy crying that his parents had been killed. He walked with us all the way to the camps. Today, the boy has become a member of my family and we live together. The camps are filled with children living in similar circumstances. Many Rohingya have adopted children who lost their families.”

Doctors of the World Japan’s activities currently reach an estimated 2,177 households in Kutupalong refugee camp

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Jahida, 17

“My mother was killed during the violence in August. I do not know who killed her because at the time there was chaos. So many horrible things happened. I have an 18 year old brother and a 12 year old sister, but we got separated as we were fleeing to Bangladesh. I have been looking for them since I arrived through announcements in the camp and bulletin boards. I haven’t found them yet but I will keep looking. My biggest problem is finding food. Although I miss Myanmar, I am still scared and cannot return. In the meantime I would like to study here. I really want to learn.”

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Muhammad, 11

“The army came and burned my house. My father was shot by a soldier with a gun and died. I was also shot, but we couldn’t take care of my wound. As soon as I arrived in Cox’s Bazaar I was taken to a hospital and I underwent surgery. I would like to return to Myanmar because my father is there. I want to go to his grave. I think the government of Myanmar should give citizenship to Rohingya. Then we could go home. On our land, we should be able to move freely anywhere as we please. My biggest concern now is that there is no food here.”

For many of the patients we spoke to, the uncertainty of their future is unbearable

The situation for many Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh remains unclear. While negotiations have taken place between Myanmar and Bangladesh to repatriate the Rohingya, many are concerned about their safety if they return. The majority of the Rohingya still consider Myanmar as a hostile environment for their community. 

While political negotiations continue, our teams will continue to provide medical care, free of charge, to refugees in need. Because at Doctors of the World, we believe that every person – no matter who they are, where they live, or how much money they have – should be able to access quality health services. 

Learn more about our work across Asia.