The Rohingya Children: Camp Life

by Nathan Burns, Founder

Today we learned that Myanmar and Bangladesh have signed a preliminary deal for the return home of the 600,000+ Rohinyga refugees. The deal stipulates that they will process no more than 300 Rohingya people per day. Let’s do the maths on that one. 


In the fading afternoon light a small boy squats beside a water pump, staring over his shoulder with deep brown eyes. He absent-mindedly washes his clothes, naked whilst his sole belongings are slapped clean against the slimy concrete. To his left, an old lady emerges from a makeshift toilet cubicle, hoisting her robes and shuffling over next to the boy. She motions him aside, making room on the concrete to hunker down and continue peeling pumpkin leaves. Her gnarled, blackened fingers deftly peel fibrous strips, casting them aside into a small pile, whilst the leaves are piled into a dirty bucket.


I make eye contact with a young man across the path. He has set up his own little ‘stall’ to sell his radishes. Despite everything, the drive to earn, the drive to survive  – keeps on. This is how he will provide for his family and his community. 


There is a constant procession of bodies on the nearby path – shuffling, mostly bare feet moving people ‘home’ to makeshift shelters. Endless bundles of firewood burdens young spines – each painstakingly slashed from the shrinking forest many kilometers away. Intermittently a large tree root will come bobbing along, it’s owner caked in dust and grimacing under the weight yet satisfied in the knowledge that – tonight at least – his family will be able to cook what little food they have.


A team of teenage boys trudge past, UNHCR-branded mattocks slung over their shoulders. Their faces are streaked with mud and tell the story of their day: a sweltering eight hours carving level shelter plots from incredibly steep terrain. From the edge of the path an old man tries to entice them, drawing their attention to a line of oily, stinking fish he’s been guarding from flies since before lunch. The boys wave him off, perhaps wishing they could afford such a luxury.


At the top of a small hill a mu’adhin calls melodically outside an improvised mosque. Worshippers respond, dutifully removing their footwear and assembling inside. Dust swirls through the open sides of the building as prayers are offered. Those less devout continue on their way, moving slowly into the twilight. A young boy walks past me on the way home, carrying his little brother who is fast asleep on his shoulder.


The Rohingya children are having to grow up much faster than any child ever should. But they’ve adapted quickly to camp life; they understand the role they now must play in their own and their family’s survival. 


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