What does the future hold for Rohingya babies born in Bangladesh?
She cries, she kicks, then she quietens on her mother’s chest. Like so many other newborns in Bangladesh, baby Rajiya* is living the first few weeks of her life learning about the world around her.
Rajiya* at 15 days old at the Save the Children primary health care centre.
Photo: Dominic Nahr / Save The Children
Unlike the other babies, she doesn’t have a permanent home. Her mother, Jannat* fled ethnic violence in Myanmar in 2017 to end up here, in the vast, maze of shacks and shanties that make up the Cox’s Bazar refugee camp. But Bangladesh does not recognise the Rohingya as refugees, and the Rohingya population is denied citizenship in Myanmar.
So, the future for Rajiya is uncertain. Will she spend her life in a camp, like generations of refugees around the world? Or will she one day leave this improvised mega-village to live outside, able to make her own decisions, safe and free?
Four years in the camp
It’s now been four years since the mass exodus of Rohingya from Rakhine State. But Jannat still remembers it well. “Yes, I saw the killing, the bloodshed, with my own eyes. It happened in plain daylight, for everyone to see. They killed girls, boys, women and men.”
She fled, together with her mother. She has no idea where her father is. Shortly after arriving at the camp, she met Rajiya’s father. They married, but only stayed together briefly; he left her for another woman. Soon after, she discovered she was pregnant.
She gave birth to her baby Rajiya at the Save the Children primary health care centre in the camp in March 2019. It was a difficult birth, where Jannat lost a lot of blood, and both baby and mother had to be monitored for the first fortnight.
And now, baby Rajiya is no longer a baby. A cheeky 2-year-old toddler, she loves following her mother around and imitating the adults around her, putting on face cream and looking in the mirror. She loves to draw and play on the makeshift swing her mother has put up in their hut. But she is still stateless.
The future for Rajiya
Jannat’s hopes for her daughter are simple: a good education, the chance to earn a living, and a home to live in peace. But what many around the world take for granted can seem like an impossible dream here.
They can’t leave Bangladesh until they are guaranteed safety in Myanmar, but neither can they make a life in Bangladesh for themselves. They are not allowed to work, or to study for formal qualifications. Bangladesh, itself a poor country, has made it clear it cannot support permanent settlement of the refugees.
“My daughter is growing up. She doesn’t have her father… but I want to give her proper education. Let the girl learn. If she could become a teacher! I have to do indecent jobs because I don't have an education. I wish to see her at least as a school graduate!”