Crossing the border through a 10-year-old’s eyes

May 13, 2018
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10-year-old Harisa describes how she and her family escaped from their home in Myanmar and crossed the border into Bangladesh. She is one of almost a million Rohingyas living in the makeshift settlements in Cox’s Bazar- all of whom experienced similar trauma. 

My family and I walked for 20 days to get from Myanmar to Bangladesh. We arrived in late August 2017. I am now living in the camps with my mother and five siblings.

10-year-old Harisa Bibi in a child-friendly space in Cox’s Bazar.

My home back in Myanmar was near the main road. The military burnt it down with launchers in the middle of the night. My youngest brother, barely two years old, was killed in the fire.

They fired shots randomly at everyone in the village. We had to flee immediately, and we couldn’t recover my brother’s body. A shot fired at my mother, leaving her arm wounded. She grew weak and numb with pain, but kept running in fear of being caught and tortured.

We jumped into a river, swam across and entered a forest. We stayed until it was safe to leave. We were so hungry and tired. We ate leaves and whatever we could find.

I cannot remember how long we were there; it was dark and quiet, and all I could hear were children screaming and crying from the village nearby.

After several days, the military had left finally. We ran to the village to find only ashes and debris from burnt houses. Dead bodies everywhere – shot, slaughtered, tortured and burnt.

My father could not contain himself. He cried out, praying for peace and forgiveness.

His cries gave him away. The military returned to the village – tied him up and killed him as we watched from behind the trees. They sent out their hunting dogs, which ate my father’s dead body and chased us through the forest. We ran, and eventually found safety by hiding up in some trees.

Desperate and scared, we followed the other families, making their way to Bangladesh.

The military stopped us again as we were about to cross the border.

“Why are you escaping”, they demanded.

Some of the men answered:

“You are torturing us and we cannot live like this.”

They were killed in an instant.

My family and I were allowed to cross the border, but they robbed us of all our money and valuables.

We lived on the road in the sweltering heat for five days when we reached. We survived on the kindness of strangers who offered us food- bananas, rice and eggs. On the fifth day, someone graciously gave us some money.

We bought bus tickets and started towards the camps. We heard that the other Rohingya families from their villages were living there.

I am happy I am here. My family is safe. I like that I can study here, and play with other children.

But most nights, I cannot sleep. I miss my father, and dream about my little brother and my home in Myanmar.

Harisa is 10 years old. She is one of almost a million Rohingyas who are living in the makeshift settlements in Cox’s Bazar. More than half of them are women and children, most of whom have lost their parents and have suffered sexual abuse.

We are running 215 child-friendly spaces in Cox’s Bazar and Teknaf, providing children with safe spaces to learn, sing, and play, and receive psychosocial support from trained counsellors.  

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