What Rohingya refugees left behind

Balukhali, Bangladesh

Nearly 700,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled to the Balukhali refugee camp and nearby tent cities in Bangladesh since ethnic conflict in Burma sparked the fastest human exodus since the Rwandan genocide in 1994.

In October, we asked some residents of Balukhali what they missed most about the homes they had left behind.

This is what they said.

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Nurul Ameen, 11

A second-grader with an I-don't-have-time-for-you attitude. “At home I was on the football team, playing side defense. Two of my teammates are also here. But there's no space to play.”

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Abdurrahman, 61

Abdurrahman fixes up his new home by tying some bamboo together with plastic cord. “I had five cattle in my village. One of them was just a calf, and she was my number one, my favorite. Yesterday I cried when I thought of her.”

Julekha, 52

Julekha sits outside her shack. “What I miss the most is sitting down with my neighbors in the evening and passing the time by just talking and talking.”

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Jannatara, 13,
and Fatema, 14

Jannatara and Fatema are cousins who were scraping pots and pans clean with sand. Both were extremely camera shy. Fatema said, “I left my favorite dresses and a small jewelry box behind. Now I’m sure those things are gone forever.”

Jahid, 28,
and Rohana Hussein, 6

Jahid Hussein and his daughter Rohana, who has painted her face in a traditional Burmese style. “I owned a crockery shop in a big bazaar. I ran away when they looted the place. They took all the good quality stuff and must've burned the rest afterward.”

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Haji Mohammad Ameen,
claims to be 98

In his old age, Haji Mohammad Ameen has devoted himself to teaching youngsters the Koran. “My whole world was my village. When the Buddhists opened fire, I left with my life and nothing else. I don't even know how I managed to survive. The road was so muddy — up to my chest. My son and Allah delivered me here. I miss my students the most.”

The Rohingya in Bangladesh live in a state of limbo: Many fear for their safety if they were to return to Burma, but conditions are dire in the camps in Bangladesh. A repatriation deal between Burma and Bangladesh stalled in late January, and international monitoring groups have called for safeguards to be implemented before Rohingya are returned to Burma.