This post is largely dictated from a World Vision joint report, Childhood Interrupted: Children’s Voices from the Rohingya Refugee Crisis authored by Eline Severijnen and Linda Ridwan Steinbock.

“We live a captive life here. We cannot do anything we want to do. We cannot play here, there is no football and there is not enough space for us to play. I want my old life in Myanmar back.”

In only five months, over 655,500 people fled their homes in Myanmar and sought safety in neighboring Bangladesh. They fled widespread violence and horrific abuses. Among them, 58 percent are children under 18 years old. The refugee crisis impacting the Rohingya community is a children’s emergency. World Vision International joined two other organizations provided a platform for refugee children and children in host communities to speak out, to share their day-to-day experiences, needs and challenges, together with their fears and hopes for the future.

A team in Bangladesh looking at the impacts of this refugee crisis spoke with 200 children, ages 7-17, and their mothers. Through different stories, children all communicated the same things. However, there is a bill in Congress that if passed, can help provide these children hope.

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We do not feel safe.

Across all groups of children – host community and refugees – issues around safety, or child protection, are consistently a worry. Feelings of physical insecurity in their respective environments have resulted in parents adopting coping strategies to protect their children in the only ways they know how: by keeping their children, especially their daughters, in the tent or house as much as possible. It is important to note that children identified trafficking and kidnapping as a significant risk to all children. “When we go to forest or to the land owned by the Bangladeshi community to collect firewood, they do not allow us to do so. Sometimes they beat us and we feel hopeless.”

We want to learn.

Each person interviewed said that education is a priority. Children who are in school report that it is a safe space. It became apparent that time is indeed a barrier to accessing education: children spend most of their time on household chores, including the collection of water and firewood and distribution support. For girls, in particular, there are social barriers. Children further said that they do not have materials or light to study, especially at night. 11-17-year-old children shared that they are too old to access the school services provided.  “We cannot study here, but we want to study. I had a school near my home in Myanmar. I loved to play at our school field. Here we have no school for us. We cannot play here.”

Our families eat differently now.

In camps, families receive 25kg (55 pounds) of rice every 15 days. This lasts a typical family 10-12 days and larger families typically only eat two meals a day to help the rice stretch. Cooking is dependent on gathering firewood, which is scarce and people often have to travel long distances to gather it. Often, adults eat last or not at all, so children can have nourishment.  “It is difficult to get healthy food. We totally depend on relief food, which does not include fish, vegetables, or meat.”

We are getting sick and live in dirty conditions.

In one group, six out of 10 children reported that they had suffered from illnesses in the last month. Children said that people are suffering from skin diseases, diarrhea, stomachaches, fever, colds, and coughs. Some of the illnesses were attributed to winter weather and not having proper clothing or blankets to keep warm at night. Additionally, there is inadequate access to hygiene. “Nobody takes care of refugee women and girls, toilets and showers are not available for us to use easily. We have to wait for a long time and wait until the men go away…”

We can’t play.

Refugee children across all age groups showed concern about the fact that they have nowhere to play freely with their friends. They also shared that they do not have toys to play with or time to play.  “I have to take on big responsibilities in the family, like taking care of my brother and sister.”

Children’s Hopes

We want to feel safe. We want to learn and play. Our families need an income. We want to be healthy. One way to help make these things possible is to maintain pressure on governments, including the U.S. government, to help reduce conflict and fragility that drives refugee crises.  The Global Fragility and Violence Reduction Act of 2018 (H.R. 5273) will strengthen the capacity of the United States to address root causes of violence and fragility. Below, ask your Representative to cosponsor this critical bill.

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Photo: A young girl who has been impacted by the Myanmar – Bangladesh refugee crisis. ©2017 World Vision

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