Chilling experiences of Rohingya children who fled their homes in Myanmar have been laid bare in a powerful new report released by Save the Children today.
Horrors I will never forget paints a disturbing picture of the systematic violence, rape and forced evictions faced by many of the 600,000 Rohingya who arrived in Bangladesh since August 25 this year, almost 60 percent of whom are children.
Among them is 16-year-old Shadibabiran* who told Save the Children staff in Bangladesh, “Some soldiers took me and two other girls into a house. They hit me in the face with a gun, kicked me in my chest and stamped on my arms and legs. Then I was raped by three soldiers. They raped me for about two hours and at some stage I fainted.”
The soldiers broke one of her ribs, Shadibabiran said. “It was very painful and I could hardly breathe. I still have difficulty breathing, but I haven’t been to a doctor as I feel too ashamed.”
Twenty-four-year-old Rehema* revealed how she had witnessed a woman and a baby being burnt alive. “I saw a soldier pour gasoline over a heavily pregnant woman. Then he set her on fire,” she said. “Another soldier ripped a baby from his mother’s arms and threw him into the fire. His name was Sahab* and he was not even one year old. I will never forget their screams.”
Twelve-year-old Hosan* fled his village for Bangladesh after the military started hacking people with machetes. On the way Hosan entered an abandoned village hoping to find some food or water, and eventually came across a reservoir.
“When I got closer I saw at least 50 dead bodies floating in it. I can’t forget the smell of the burning houses, or the sight of the bloated bodies. These are horrors I will never forget,” he said.
Save the Children staff conducted a range of in-depth interviews with children and women for the report. Every account painted another picture of horror.
“Almost every child we’ve spoken to has seen and experienced things that no child ever should. They have told us of massacres, multiple rapes and seeing family members burnt alive,” said Save the Children Australia director of policy and international programs Mat Tinkler, who recently visited Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh.
“With more than half of all refugees under the age of 18, this is a children’s emergency. Many of these children are deeply traumatised by what they have been through, and are now living somewhere that is no place for a child.”
The release of the report comes ahead of a meeting of Foreign Ministers from Europe, Asia, Australia and New Zealand in Myanmar’s capital Naypyidaw Monday and Tuesday. Save the Children is urging Foreign Ministers at the meeting to take a stand on the Rohingya crisis and unequivocally condemn the violence that has been reported over the last months.
“The plight of the Rohingya people must be front and centre of the talks in Naypyidaw. Nations from around the world must stand together and leverage their diplomatic influence with Myanmar. Nothing should be off the table; they must use all financial and diplomatic avenues available to end the crisis and protect children,” Mr Tinkler said.
“We want to see an immediate end to the violence, for perpetrators of this horror to be brought to justice and for unhindered humanitarian access to be allowed in northern Rakhine State.
“Beyond this we must also rebuild the shattered young lives of Rohingya children. From those I talked to in the camps it is clear that many children are deeply distressed. We must ensure that these children receive the vital care and support they need to recover.”
*Name changed to protect identity.
Call Alex Sampson on 0429 943 027 for interviews.