Rohingya stories: I worry about my children

Five years after a forced exodus from Myanmar, Rohingya refugees share hopes and fears.

A Rohingya refugee family inside their shelter.

Bangladesh 2022 © Saikat Mojumder/MSF

On August 25, 2017, the Rohingya people in Myanmar were the targets of a large-scale campaign of merciless violence. More than 700,000 people fled for their lives across the border into Bangladesh in a matter of weeks, joining thousands who had fled previous attacks. Today, nearly one million Rohingya still live in crowded, unsafe, and unsanitary conditions in what is now the largest refugee camp in the world in Cox's Bazar.  

To mark five years of continued displacement with no solution in sight, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) gathered testimonies from people of different generations with different concerns and fears: Tayeba, a mother of five-year-old twins; 15-year-old Anwar, who misses school and wants to become a doctor; Nabi and Nasima, the parents of young children; Hashimullah, a 45-year-old former businessman; and 65-year-old Mohamed, who worked in the Myanmar government for decades before he and his people were stripped of their citizenship.  

This is Nabi Ullah and Nasima Khatun's story. 

“In Myanmar, I worked as a farmer,” said Nabi. “I cultivated land up in the hills and we fed ourselves with the harvests. There was no need to earn money as we grew our own food.    

When the army came [in 2017], I was left unconscious after they tortured me. My neighbors were slaughtered and burned; others went missing. They set fire to the whole neighborhood. We needed to escape. I packed some medications, gathered my strength and my family, and left.” 

“While we were escaping through the hills around ten people in our group were killed,” said Nasima. “My husband, his parents, and I survived, but my family didn’t make it. I lost my parents and siblings. We had to leave them behind and crossed the border into Bangladesh.”  

We are forever thankful to the Bangladesh government for supporting us.  It is just that we want to go home.

“After crossing the border, the Bangladesh government gave us shelter and food,” Nabi said. “Then we were sent to these camps. I miss Myanmar.  

“I have one son and two daughters. My son was born here in the MSF hospital. He is one-and-a-half years old. My daughters were born in Myanmar.  My wife is now pregnant with another child. We rely on food assistance and struggle to pay for the other things we need, like buying clothes for the children. We are in a dire situation.  

“Here in the camps, people suffer from fevers, diarrhea, sore throats, and other diseases a lot. When I catch a fever, my throat swells, and I have difficulty breathing. On one occasion, I was taken to Kutupalong hospital by ambulance and was admitted for three days because I needed oxygen.  

“I go to MSF whenever I feel any discomfort, and I also take my children to MSF for different kinds of ailments. I worry about my children and building a future for them. I want education for them. There is no bigger wealth than education. Life here will be even more difficult when our children grow up without an education.  

“We all miss our home terribly. I do not even feel like eating when memories of Myanmar come back.   

“We are forever thankful to the Bangladesh government for supporting us. Thanking the government will never be enough for the support of so many families. It is just that we want to go home. I always think about what would help us get back to Myanmar. We can only return if the government accepts us as citizens and returns our houses, land, and documents. We want to go to the place where our rights will be ensured.”