I’ve just returned from Bangladesh, visiting Save the Children’s work with the Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar.
What the Rohingya have been through is horrific. I have visited refugee camps and informal settlements and met with refugees in Ethiopia, Rwanda, Jordan, Lebanon and Egypt and all the stories I have heard are deeply distressing. In the words of Warshan Shire, “No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark”. The atrocities committed against the Rohingya are burned in my mind after reading Save the Children’s report, Horrors I Will Never Forget.
Our team in Bangladesh are some of the kindest, most compassionate people I have ever met. They rapidly scaled up their work with the Rohingya in 2017, when nearly 700,000 Rohingya fled terrible violence from Myanmar to Bangladesh in 2017, over half of them children.
One staff member described helping nearly 5,000 refugees across the border every single day, often with little more than the clothes on their backs.
This care and compassion was evident in every area and detail of Save the Children’s work. We distribute food for over half of the refugee population in the camps, giving out rice and lentils to ensure refugees have meals every single day.
Our food distribution point was well ordered and calm, and local porters were on hand to help the elderly, pregnant and disabled carry the heavy sacks back to their tents. Our child protection teams spoke with passion about the work they do, even though it is clear they are overstretched with the number of cases they are seeing.
By international humanitarian standards they should have a caseload of 25 cases, but they are each dealing with well over 40 – cases of abuse, unaccompanied & separated children, child marriage, trafficking and child labour. Crucially, whilst Save the Children has set up 100 learning centres reaching over 11,000, 1/3 of refugee children aged 4-14 are still missing their right to education 20 months on – nearly 80,000 children risk becoming a lost generation.
This visit was my first since having my baby boy in 2018. I saw him in every child that I met and heard him in every cry or laugh. Coming home I held him a little tighter and resolved even harder to do all that is within my power to give every child the same opportunities that he has.
We urgently need to deliver more funds to help our teams, to keep our health centre running 24 hours a day, so women can deliver their babies safely and so babies and children are not dying from preventable diseases. We also urgently need to scale up the reach of our child friendly spaces where children can sing, dance and learn and receive crucial psychosocial support.
The costs of this are possible; for example $1 million would help us provide early learning opportunities for 30,000 children, tripling the number of children we are reaching. $600,000 could also cover all the costs involved for 32 doctors working in our Primary Health Care Centre* for one year.
*Our Primary Healthcare Centre is a 20-bed inpatient facility providing 24/7 medical assistance to children and their families in Cox’s Bazar.