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The Camps of Balukhali

by on 31 December 2019
 

A GROUND REPORT BY MR. SHAHID SANGANI (WMO COO)

The smoke still billows above a burning village in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, across the border. I sit in the Refugee Camp of Balukhali, a small Bangladeshi town on the Myanmar border and witness hell on both sides. The fires of the netherworld and the shades of purgatory, paint a grim canvas for “the most persecuted minority in the World” – the Rohingya.

UN officials have described Myanmar’s persecution of the Rohingya as ethnic cleansing and the recent spate of violence and mass killings fuel fears of an unfolding genocide.

Extreme atrocities against women and children, wiping out of entire villages by Myanmar forces have triggered the mass exodus of villagers to Bangladesh. Over half a million have crossed the border in just a couple of months. The surge of refugees, many wounded or ailing, has strained the resources of aid agencies and communities that are already helping hundreds of thousands displaced by previous waves of violence in Myanmar. Many have no shelter and aid agencies are racing against time to provide clean water, sanitation and food.

World Memon Organisation stands firm, shoulder to shoulder with the Rohingya community during these uncertain times.

The WMO Far East Chapter team, are assessing the grim situation at the camps. Funds have been pouring in from across the globe for the Rohingya community and the organisation must ensure that they are utilised to make a tangible difference on the ground ; to alleviate the pain and ease the hardships endured by the refugees, dwelling in the subhuman conditions of the uninhabitable Balukhali camps.

We are surrounded by slopes of hills covered with orange and grey tarpaulin sheets, for as far as the eye can see. Thousands of makeshift shelters have mushroomed over 2000 acres of land, housing more than a hundred thousand migrants. Plastic sheets wrapped around bamboo sticks with tarpaulin roofs are the new homes of the Rohingya refugees. At least 6 to 8 adults are stacked together in these shacks accompanied with their children ; all confined in an area of just 5 feet by 10 feet. The rains continue to play havoc with frequent landslides, wiping out homes and creating large pools of mud, in and around the shanties. The afternoons bring the scorching heat and the only sight of relief is a rainbow that sometimes appears on the horizon when the wet spells follow the afternoon sun.

There are hardly any toilets and the occasional breeze carries the stench of human faeces, unwashed skin, stale food and death. Many refugees have succumbed to the hardships and their shrouds gather dust. There is an impending epidemic looming as the squalid conditions worsen due to lack of sanitation, as the rapid influx of refugees from Myanmar refuses to cede.

Food is scarce as is clean drinking water. Malnourished kids with vacant eyes queue up for food in serpentine lines that stretch the length of two football fields. Many have horrific tales to tell of the persecution they faced in Myanmar and the arduous journey they embarked on to reach the camp. Crossing mile wide, raging rivers in wobbly wooden containers that kept them afloat, walking days on end in knee deep mud, across paddy fields to escape rape, torture and slaughter. Every child has lost at least one or several members of their family.

I was soon surrounded by a group of children, baked in mud as they trudged through the scattered puddles to reach me. I was distributing a few goodies that I had carried in my pocket since Chittagong. The motley group were pleased as punch; they had just won a prize- a pot of cooked rice. The odd games that people invent in difficult situations to weather the storm. As the tiny tots offered to share their prized possession with me, a morsel of rice, my eyes brimmed with tears. I thought about my own children, as a father I wanted my kids to lead an accomplished life, have the best in education, fulfil their ambitions, pursue their passions in life, be it sports or a hobby. And here I was with children, possibly orphaned whose only aim was to survive the night. As they firmly held onto their prize, a fistful of rice that would enable them to achieve their tall ambition of staying alive, through yet another day of their eventful life.

Humanitarian Aid for Rohingya

NAME
Project Aman

LOCATION
Camp Aman is situated between Balukhali and Kutupalong Refugee Camps in the Ukhia Sub-district of Cox’s Bazar, along the Bangladesh – Myanmar border.

THE TEAM
WMO Far East Chapter team is helmed by it’s former VP and WMO stalwart – Mr. AC Saleem. The team members include Dr. Haroon Admani (VP – Far East Chapter), Mr. Anjum Asmath (Regional Treasurer) and Mr. Shahid Sangani (COO – WMO)

A couple of humanitarians from UK – Mr. Amir Farooq and Mr. Adil Abbasi are collaborating with WMO on the Aman project. They are the business partners of Mr. Bashir Sattar (Founding Trustee of WMO).

  • PREPARATION
    Registration of 300 families, almost 1200 members, in a designated area of the camp will be catered to and taken care of, by WMO under the Aman project.
  • Formation of a supply chain to receive and distribute relief aid on a regular basis to the earmarked familiesEngaging, Corresponding and establishing Communication links with community leaders of the Rohingya clan.
    FOOD DISTRIBUTION ON A WEEKLY BASIS
  • 300 food
  • Each pack contains 10 kg rice, 2kg lentils, 2kg onions, 1 litre cooking oil, 2kg potato, 1kg salt, 1 kg of sugar and spices. Each pack feeds a family of 4 for 7 to 10 days
  • 150 packs of baby milk for infants and children
    RELIEF GOODS DISTRIBUTION
  • wired lamps for Shelters
  • 2,000 pairs of clothes for men, women and children
  • 500 sanitary sets. Each set contains a body soap, towels, soap to wash clothes, nail clippers, comb and razors
  • 500 metres of tarpaulin to build shelters and overheard roofs.
  • Floor mats to sleep on
  • Battery Flashlights to navigate in the dark at night
  • Utensils
  • Firewood for Cooking

SANITATIN AND CONSTRUCTION PROJECTS

  • 4 deep water tube wells with depths ranging to over 150 feet to supply clean drinking water
  • 4 separate bathing areas for women and children
  • 46 toilets
  • 2 bridges
  • Brick Stairways

MEDICAL CAMPS

  • Doctors from across the globe are attending to the Refugees.
  • Distribution of Medicines to treat the common ailments of diarrhoea, tapeworm and high fever.
  • Diagnosis and Treatment of Tuberculosis.
  • Vaccination given to 300 refugees in collaboration with the UNICEF

FUTURE PROJECTS

  • Establishment of a School
  • Masjid
  • WMO to partner BRAC : Medicines and medical consumables, provided by BRAC at their various medical camps will be funded by WMO. In the next 6 months, we intend to cover a dozen camps on a daily basis, treating on an average, 1500 – 1800 ailing refugees everyday.

Funds have been pouring in from around the World for this pertinent cause but much more is needed. As we distribute food packs to the gathered children, queuing up to collect their weekly food ration, some are rummaging through the relief goods containers filled with the usual – flashlights, soaps, candles, utensils, terpal sheets, floor mats, brooms and clothes. The new arrivals are shoes, blankets for the oncoming winter, carpets for the Masjids and a few elementary picture books for kids. As the construction work is underway for the school and masjid in the distance, its heartening to see a few children pounce on the books, rather than the preferred colourful T-shirts.

Another day has passed and as the sun sets over the Balukhali camp, the faithfuls congregate to offer their Magribh prayers. We lay out the carpets and join the others to perform Salaah. The Imaam recites Surah Al-Inshirah. His melodious voice fills the air and I recall the translation of those insightful verses, which under the prevailing difficult conditions are most befitting –

Inna maAAa alAAusri yusran
Verily, with the hardship, there is relief

Wa-ila rabbika fairghab
And to your Lord (Alone) turn (all your intentions and hopes and) your invocations.

My heart is at peace.

A wry smile escapes my lips. Who would have thought that we would find peace in this part of the World – filled with torment, sorrow and eternal suffering but the Lord works in mysterious ways. But then again, we did name our Project – ‘Aman’ which translates in the language of the Rohingya to ‘Safety, Comfort and Peace’

We hope and pray that the Almighty bring an end to the violence, hatred and discord. Help us accomplish the goals, we set out to achieve. Grant us Peace which is True, Perfect and Everlasting.

Ameen!

 

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