World Vision International
article • Saturday, September 23rd 2017

Rayhana: The harsh reality of life in a refugee camp

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“Living in a refugee camp is difficult. There’s no food, no water, no toilet and no place to bathe. We can’t afford to eat three times a day. My newborn baby cries for milk but I cannot produce enough breast milk - maybe because I have not eaten enough over the past weeks," laments 23-year old Rayhana, mother of four children, now living in a refugee camp in Bangladesh.

According to UN OCHA report, dated 22 September, about 430,000 people fled from Myanmar to Bangladesh when violence broke out in Myanmar Rakhaine State on 25 August. Bangladesh currently is hosting more than 700,000 Rohingya refugees in twelve refugee camps. Rayhana’s family is one of the 25,000 people who are living in tents in the Jamtoli Thaingkhali Refugee Camp.

Life was good in our village

Before the violence erupted in Rakhaine State, Myanmar, Rayhana recounts, “We had a decent house and reared goats and chicken. Our house was made of wood, a beautiful one. It had two rooms. We had all we needed there. Our paddy field blooms. We lived a happy and peaceful life but the violence forced us to leave everything behind.”

But Rayhana’s reality has changed overnight and is constantly consumed by finding way to adapt to a refugee life.

Children cry for food

As one of the new refugees in the camp, the family has yet to get a card, which will make them eligible to get relief. They collect food and clothes from roads where people distribute food and clothes in the trucks. “Children’s cry for food becomes louder as the day goes by. I feel bad to give them Chira (flatten rice) and Gur (sweet) but they don’t like it. They prefer to eat rice, it’s our staple food," she says.

By giving a false promise of feeding them rice, Rayhana tries to feed them what they have.

 "I tell them we’ll eat rice later today, then say we’ll eat tomorrow. My kids ask for rice with meat and fish. There is nothing much to say after that,” says, Rayhana.

For cooking, she made a small Chula (cooking fireplace) where she can cooks if they’re able to collect rice. At daytime, her husband, Jaber, goes out to collect aid assistance on roads, in the fields, and distribution points. He also brings clothes for his family.

Defecation in the jungle

There is scarcity of toilets in the camp. “In the morning when it is still dark, I take water in a small pot and go to the jungle, which is 20 minutes-walk, from my tent just to defecate in an open space. It’s uncomfortable but I have no other choice. For children, we take them to some place closer to our tent and let them defecate in an open place,” she said.

Elaborating on her recently acquired routine Rayhana says, “after defecation in the jungle, I return and brush my teeth with Ara (Charcoal). Then I feed my 20-day-old baby, Rokeya.”

No privacy

“In a small space with six people sleeping is rough. Tents in this camp are very nearby. We cannot talk about many things here. Very often our sleep gets disturbed either by children’s cries and people shouting. I wake up in the dead of the night to take a bath as there are no walls, or enclosures, near the tube-well. Many women bathe at night so I have to wait my turn.

At daytime, many people roam around our camp. Some come to distribute aid, some come to visit the camps residents for many other reasons. In such a situation we cannot take rest or do many personal tasks.”

Huge water crisis

Rayhana’s children haven’t bathed in three days because of water shortage. “There are very few tube-wells here. There’s no enough water. There is always a long queue in the tube-well.

After waiting for hours, Rayhana is able to bring little water back to their shed.

"We have a small jar of three litres where I can store water. I wish we have bigger jars, so we can store enough for emergency use.”

Uncertain Future

 “I don’t know what is written in our destiny. I hope a school opens here for my children. It would be good for their future. My children could go to school and become teachers and officers when they grow up. Currently, there is no school, no madrassa in the camp. We have no source of income too. We’re only waiting to receive aid.”


Story by Himaloy Joseph Mree/World Vision Bangladesh Communications Staff

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