Yesterday marked the third year since the violent military offensive in Myanmar which forced hundreds of thousands of Rohingya families to abandon their homes. For Ashika, a thirteen-year-old refugee who lives in the Cox’s Bazar camp in Bangladesh, the anniversary is a reminder of decades of violence and violations of the most basic rights and freedoms.
Ashika, her parents and her six sisters fled Bangladesh after soldiers destroyed the village they lived in. They managed to cross the border when they had already run out of water and food. Ashika’s mother explains that they ran away “to save our lives”. Despite the difficulties, Ashika will not give up on her dreams and hopes to continue studying to be a teacher one day. Sadly, many more were left behind. According to the most conservative guesses, around 10,000 Rohingya people were killed. The soldiers burned whole villages and destroyed everything they found in their path.
However, now they are faced with a new danger and are scared again. As Ashika’s mother points out, “we found a little refuge, our home, but now we are faced with a new danger, coronavirus, and it is terrifying”. The family survives on rice and pulses: “It is very difficult to earn money and buy food for our children”.
The refugee settlement Ashika and her family live in has grown to be the largest of its kind in the world. In fact, before the arrival of the pandemic the services and infrastructure at the camp were already at breaking point.
Ashika learnt to wash her hands correctly at the Educo Adolescents’ Club. Ashika’s father took the decision to take out what for them was an enormous amount of money to buy disposable masks and be able to use them in an emergency. “Buying a disposable mask is a huge financial strain for us, but what else was I supposed to do? They might save your life”, he explains.
Ashika looks back on her life in Myanmar with nostalgia. “I could move around freely, here I can’t. Our house was on a plain and it was very spacious”, explain: “Here our house is tiny and we are surrounded by hills. It is hard to get from one place to another. Before the pandemic, I would go to school and play with my friends, but now I can’t. This situation makes me feel bad”.
She thinks that the advice she received in the Educo Adolescents’ Club has helped her protect herself from COVID-19: “Educo has taught me how to wash my hands and other hygiene measures. It has been very useful”. Despite the difficulties, Ashika refuses to give up on her dreams and hopes to continue studying to be a teacher one day.