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‘My whole world was my village’: Rohingya refugees share what they left behind

Rohingya refugees build a structure using bamboo and tarp on Sept. 22 in Balukhali, Bangladesh, where hundreds of thousands have arrived in the past month. (Max Bearak/The Washington Post)

BALUKHALI, Bangladesh — Nearly half a million Rohingya refugees now live in Balukhali and nearby tent cities in Bangladesh after ethnic conflict in Burma sparked the most rapid human exodus since the Rwandan genocide in 1994. We asked some of them what they missed most about the homes they had left behind.

Nurul Ameen, 11

A scrappy 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.”

Jannatara, 13, and Fatema, 14

The two 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.”

Abdurrahman, 61

Abdurrahman was fixing 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

She sat outside her shack with a forlorn look on her face. “What I miss the most is sitting down with my neighbors in the evening and passing the time by just talking and talking.”

Jahid Hussein, 28, and daughter Rohana, 6

Rohana painted her face in a traditional Burmese style. Her father said, “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.”

Haji Mohammad Ameen, claims to be 98

He is a sprightly and talkative man who walks using a wooden cane. He is called Haji because he was fortunate enough to have performed the hajj many years ago. In his old age, he 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.”

Read more:

One month on, a bleak new reality emerges for 436,000 Rohingya refugees 

The ‘ethnic cleansing’ of the Rohingya