ON first glance, they look much like any other child’s drawing. Rudimentary stickmen, basic houses, bright colours. But look a little closer and you’ll see those men are brandishing machetes and machine guns. The bright colours blood and the flames from burning homes.
These are the drawings of 10-year-old Mohammed (not his real name) and 12-year-old Majuma. They are Rohingya children who have fled Burma (Myanmar) and they have something they want you to know.
“They drove us out, they burned out houses, they have to stop torturing us,” said Mohammed.
“We don’t want to spend our whole lives as refugees.”
What would Rohingya children like the world to know? Watch this powerful video to see what they had to say. Add your name and demand justice > https://t.co/7Hq8amvz2e
— Save the Children UK (@savechildrenuk) August 23, 2018
Tomorrow will mark the anniversary of the most recent brutal military crackdown on the minority Muslim community in Rakhine State. Some 700,000 Rohingya fled across the border to Bangladesh with tales of mass killings, rape, torture and village burning. Some half of those were children.
One year on, aid agency 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.
It was one of death, persecution, and fear coming from the mouths of 10-year-olds while Burma’s generals still vehemently deny any wrongdoing.
Another message was that of a desire to return home to the everyday routine they left behind.
“I want to go back to Myanmar if it’s safe and I want to go back to school,” Majuma, who wants to become a teacher one day, said. “If there is no oppression, we want to go back.”
But for many of these children, where and what their homes now look like is not an easy question.
A study from Save the Children released Wednesday found an alarming number of Rohingya children have been orphaned by the violence in Rakhine State.
Many orphaned #RohingyaChildren like Nur* are attending our child friendly spaces in the camps. His carer says, “#SavetheChildren staff take good care of him and to see it, I feel peace.” #RememberRohingya #SaveRohingyaChildren #Rohingya pic.twitter.com/T955aOPEH1
— Save the Children (@save_children) August 23, 2018
There are currently more than 6,000 unaccompanied and separated Rohingya children living in Cox’s Bazar. Aid workers initially believed they had been separated from their caregivers in the trek across the border, but the research found for many this was not the case.
In fact, one in two Rohingya children who fled to Bangladesh without their parents were orphaned by brutal violence.
Through interviews with 139 unaccompanied and separated children, the research showed 70 percent of them were separated from parents or main caregivers by violent attacks.
Half say their parents were killed in attacks. In many cases, the children were able to give eyewitness accounts of the brutal violence that claimed their parents’ lives.
“Twelve months ago, our teams saw children arriving in Bangladesh on their own, so distressed, hungry and exhausted they couldn’t speak,” Save the Children’s Country Director in Bangladesh, Mark Pierce, said in a statement.
“We set up spaces for these children to receive 24-hour support while we searched for their families. One year later, it is clear that for many, this reunification will never take place.”
Save the Children has reached more than 350,000 Rohingya children in Cox’s Bazar in the past 12 months, including a large majority of those who have been orphaned or separated from their parents.
The group has set up nearly 100 child and girl friendly spaces in the refugee camps, 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
12 months ago, our teams saw children arriving in #Bangladesh all alone- so distressed, hungry & exhausted that they couldn't speak. We work hard to set up safe spaces for them as we searched for their families > https://t.co/KGu23rV7wk #RememberRohingya pic.twitter.com/M1VWxpKz9W
— Save the Children (@save_children) August 23, 2018
Despite the charity’s work, they remain some of the most vulnerable children on the planet. Having fled extreme violence at home, they are now susceptible to abuse, human trafficking and other forms of exploitation in the sprawling camps that now house over one million Rohingya.
The future for these children is unclear. Repatriation efforts have been slow, and reports of torture and abuse are coming from those who have made the journey back to Rakhine.
Anti-Rohingya sentiment remains high in Burma with some Rakhine residents reportedly claiming they will leave if the minority are allowed to return.
The country’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi, once a beacon for human rights, has failed to denounce the violence, instead siding with the military behind the attacks.
But Save the Children, along with other major international organisations, are calling for those responsible to be held to account.
“It has 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,” Save the Children’s Country Director in Burma, Michael McGrath, said.
“Extraordinary crimes demand an extraordinary response. 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.”
McGrath urges the international community to step up and find a solution to the crisis. The hope is, if they won’t listen to the aid groups, they will listen to the children.