Scenes at the Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh made Turkish aid worker Salit Demir lose faith in humanity.
On the third anniversary of the 2017 crackdown that marked the start of the genocide of Rohingya Muslims by the Myanmar army, Demir recalled the tales of horror at the camps.
“When I met Rohingya refugees, who fled Myanmar and reached Bangladesh after days of journey on foot without food and water, I thought that was the end of humanity,” said Demir, who has been working in Bangladesh for over 10 years.
Some 75,000 Rohingya Muslims fled Myanmar for neighboring Bangladesh at the onset of an operation against them on Aug. 25, 2017.
“When we were helping the Rohingya in newly established camps in Cox’s Bazar, we found a woman who walked for more than 10 days from her village in Myanmar to Bangladesh carrying her one-year-old baby. But the baby died of hunger and illness after arriving at the camp.
“At the moment when she thought they reached a safe place; she lost her child.
“This incident shook me to the core,” said Demir, who is the deputy head of the Istanbul-based Humanitarian Relief Foundation.
“The graves we saw at camps mostly belonged to children,” he said.
The foundation has been helping the world’s most persecuted people since the beginning of the Rohingya refugee crisis.
It has helped hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees – providing makeshift house, food, health care, hygiene kits, childcare, fresh drinking water – both in the camps in Bangladesh and in Myanmar.
“In Rohingya camps, you could see despair in the refugees’ eyes! You can see people who got lost in despair, people who had no expectation for the future, who came by walking long distance using their last ounce of strength.
“I still remember how a young man put his mother and father in straw baskets on his shoulders and carried them for days to the refugee camps.”
Demir said the words of an old man still echo in his ears.
“When we asked him how he is doing, he said that he is waiting for death.”
Since 2017, the charity group has built 9,800 bamboo huts that provide shelter for around 70,000 refugees in Cox’s Bazar camps.
“Our efforts in the region were not limited to constructing the bamboo huts only, but was complex work including the building of infrastructure, sanitation facilities, water wells, mosques, and rehabilitation centers.”
The foundation with its local partners continues to work in the region.
They have built five rehabilitation centers in the area where hundreds of children receive education.
Most Rohingya refugees who arrive at the camps in Bangladesh never return home.
“This burden is not possible to be carried out by Bangladesh alone,” Demir said, noting that the UN bodies and other countries should share the responsibility.
“In my opinion, Bangladesh has done its part utmost and continues to do so. Above all, it hosts all these people and mobilizes serious funds there despite its own dense population.”
He said there was dire need for short, medium and long-term plans for the education and health care of the refugees.
“Otherwise, in the future these uneducated children may become a serious problem.”
The Turkish aid worker lamented that despite three years the international community had failed to hold Myanmar accountable.
“The fertile lands of Myanmar, which today feed 50 million people, can also feed another 2 million of Rohingya people,” he stressed.
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