It’s the largest refugee camp in the world. Almost one million Rohingya refugees now live in unimaginably crowded conditions south of Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh, wedged between the Bay of Bengal and border with Myanmar. The vast majority fled across this border in August 2017 after their villages were burned to the ground. Many witnessed family members being raped, tortured and killed in a concerted campaign of violence against them. I could not imagine the horror of what they had endured, nor the mental scars some of them will carry.
I was in the camp to visit a project, funded through the British Asian Trust’s 2018 Ramadan appeal, which provides safe spaces for children and young people to play, learn, and find respite from the pressure of growing up in the world’s largest refugee camp. These shelters are scattered amongst the low bamboo huts which sprawl across the hillsides for miles. From a catchment area of less than a stone’s throw in every direction, dozens of children had emerged from these huts to come to that day’s session.
The sessions are facilitated by volunteers from the Rohingya community. The children take it in turns to lead the others in traditional games and nursery rhymes. The volunteers introduce songs to teach about the importance of brushing teeth and washing hands, all in the Rohingya language. Then chaos descends in the form of active play, with children pairing up to form human see-saws.
It’s easy to overlook the significance of these activities, until I remember that this is probably the only opportunity these children will have to form happy childhood memories – that when they look back in years to come, it is these moments they will cherish.
Without the opportunity to come to these shelters, the long-term mental toll would be unimaginable.
Protecting childhood is absolutely vital in a humanitarian crisis like the one in Cox’s Bazar, because these children will never get a second chance at one. The British Asian Trust will continue to support the wellbeing of young Rohingya refugees through vital projects like this one, and I am so grateful to our supporters who enable us to do so. The difference it makes is invaluable.
Stephen Tunstall, Programme Manager, British Asian Trust