'I will not work in a garment factory again': surviving seamstress Reshma Begum tells of her 17-day ordeal in rubble of collapsed Dhaka building

 

Dhaka

Reshma Begum, the 19-year-old seamstress rescued from the Rana Plaza last week, said on Monday that she would never again work in another garment factory.

Ms Begum, who earnt the equivalent of £40 a month making clothes for Western brands, was brought in a wheelchair to a press conference near Dhaka’s military hospital where she has been treated since her miraculous escape on Friday after 17 days in the rubble.  Her voice almost inaudible, she described how workers were assured the building was safe by bosses shortly before it crumbled. “There is no problem. You do your work,” she was told. 

Ms Begum is almost certainly the last person to emerge from the building alive. On Monday rescuers confirmed they had given up the search for survivors and put the death toll at 1,127.

Since the disaster on 24 April, the Bangladeshi government has set in motion a series of changes it hopes will improve conditions, instituting a wage board to increase pay and identifying vulnerable buildings. Textiles minister Latif Siddique said last night that a new minimum wage was “yet to be fixed”.

The four million people who work in the industry will also be allowed to form trade unions without asking bosses first. More than 243 of 797 factories visited by the fire safety officials have been marked “risky”.

Describing what happened when the building collapsed, she said: ''When it happened I fell down and was injured in the head heavily. Then I found myself in darkness." She tried to crawl to safety, but could not find a way out, she said.

She survived on four packets of cookies she had with her and some water, she said.

''Another person, a man, was near me. He asked for water. I could not help him. He died. He screamed, 'Save me,' but he died," she said. ''I can't remember everything that happened."

"I never thought of coming back alive," she said.

Brig. Gen. Ashfaq, a psychiatrist at the hospital, said Begum was puzzled and confused when she was rescued.

''She got panicked when someone touched her," he said. ''Now she is doing fine, better. We have talked a lot with her."

Begum's survival has been a rare moment of joy amid the morbid task of removing bodies from the disaster site. On Monday, with a death toll of 1,127, the military announced it was ending its search for bodies from the building.

The tragedy has created global pressure for reform in the Bangladeshi garment industry. But Begum said she will not be drawn back into such work.

"I will not work in a garment factory again," she said.

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