Rohingya refugee crisis: Children's drawings show horrific violence they suffered in Myanmar

'They drove us out. They burned our houses ... We don't want to spend our whole lives as refugees'

Samuel Osborne
Thursday 23 August 2018 17:36
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Save the Children release animation using Rohingya children's drawings

At first glance it looks like the sort of scene any child might draw: a small figure stands in the middle of a group of men, surrounded by houses on one side and trees on the other.

But in 12 year old Majuma’s* drawing, the men are carrying knives and machetes and the nearby trees and houses are on fire.

Majuma is one of 350,000 Rohingya children who have fled Myanmar in the last year, after horrific violence drove some 700,000 people to refugee camps in Bangladesh.

Save the Children asked Rohingya children in the camps to think about a message they would like to send world leaders through their drawings or paintings.

Many of the children produced art illustrating the violent crackdown by security forces they witnessed in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, or their arduous journey to the camps, in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh.

A drawing by Mohammed*, 10, shows gunmen shooting a family as they flee their burning village.

“In Myanmar, we weren’t allowed to go to school. They drove us out. They burned our houses,” he said.

“They have to stop torturing us. We don’t want to spend our whole lives as refugees.”

They have to stop torturing us. We don’t want to spend our whole lives as refugees 

Mohammed, 10 

“I want to go back to Myanmar if it’s safe, and I want to go back to school,” said Majuma. “If there is no oppression we want to go back. After I am educated I want to be a teacher and I want to teach children.”

The accounts of fleeing violence in Myanmar come as research by Save the Children found one in two Rohingya refugees who fled to Bangladesh without their parents were orphaned by brutal violence.

More than 6,000 unaccompanied and separated Rohingya children are living in Cox’s Bazar, where they suffer crippling food shortages and are at increased risk of exploitation and abuse.

In interviews with 139 children, Save the Children found 70 per cent had been separated from their parents or carers by violent acts, 63 per cent were separated during a direct assault on their village and 9 per cent as their family attempted to flee to Bangladesh.

The charity called on the UK to play a role in bringing the perpetrators of crimes in Myanmar to account.

Myanmar's Rohingya Muslim crisis explained

“It’s been a year since these children had their childhoods ripped away. The world has failed to hold the perpetrators of these barbaric attacks, including the Myanmar military, to account,” said George Graham, Save the Children’s director of humanitarian policy, advocacy and campaigns.

“The UK has been clear in its condemnation of these terrible atrocities, but strong words alone won’t bring justice for Rohingya children. Extraordinary crimes demand an extraordinary response. As a member of the UN security council, the UK can influence the international stance on Myanmar. The foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, has an opportunity to show leadership by pushing to refer the perpetrators of these systematic, ruthless and deliberate attacks to the International Criminal Court.

“A credible, impartial and independent investigation into these crimes, and all violations of children’s rights committed in northern Rakhine state is a key first step towards ensuring accountability.”

Save the Children has set up nearly 100 child and girl friendly spaces in the Rohingya refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar, which provide almost 40,000 children with a safe space to in which to play and recover from their experiences. The charity also provides programmes which give the children access to education as well as health, nutrition and sanitation services.

Ahead of the one year anniversary of the violence in Myanmar, the United Nations warned about what it described as a lost generation of Rohingya children.

The UN children’s fund said the minors who remain in Myanmar lack access to proper education.

“We are talking about risking the loss, or the potential loss, of a generation of Rohingya children,” Unicef spokesman Simon Ingram said, after spending six weeks in the camps of Cox’s Bazar.

“It isn’t just the half a million children or so on the Bangladeshi side of border but it’s also those who are still left behind in Rakhine state, whose access to education is patchy at best and highly limited,” he said.

The UN estimates 530,000 to 600,000 stateless Rohingya remain in Rakhine state, including some 360,000 children, he said. The UN has limited access there.

Unicef said it was expanding education programmes in the camps in Bangladesh, currently for children up to the age of 14, to try to meet the needs of older children.

Although Myanmar’s civilian administration, led by Aung San Suu Kyi, has said it is ready to accept the return of refugees, Mr Ingram said prospects for their return any time soon were bleak, as conditions in Rakhine state remain unsafe.

*Names have been changed

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