Warning: this story contains mentions of sexual and gender-based violence that some readers may find upsetting.
Right now, almost a million Rohingya people are living in refugee camps just inside the border of Bangladesh after having fled violence in Myanmar. Almost a million individual stories of pain and loss in a place where, as spaces are overcrowded and sanitation is poor, a new and unseen enemy threatens catastrophe.
Mima* and her husband weren’t wealthy, but their life was peaceful. They lived in the same little village in Myanmar where generations of their families had done before them. A young couple, like many others around the world, learning the joys and trials of parenthood as they raised their small son, surrounded by the stability of the community they had grown up in.
In one day, it all came undone.
It was just a Wednesday morning. The sounds of families waking up. The voices of children. And then the gunshots. The village was surrounded and in the hours that followed, Mima’s life would be changed forever.
The violence went on until the evening. People were shot ‘like birds’, says Mima. When her small son cried, Mima couldn’t get to him. She was being raped and beaten.
By the end of the day, 55 villagers were dead, including Mima’s son. Most homes were on fire, and many women had suffered in the same way as Mima. The sounds of mourning filled the night as families gathered the bodies of their loved ones.
Mima, her husband and his sister fled.
They walked for two days to reach the river that marks the border with Bangladesh. Once there, they were fortunate that another family member who was also escaping could loan them the money needed for a place on a boat to cross the river. On the other side, border guards brought them to the camp where they now live.
The camp provides some safety. And a place to look after the baby that Mima gave birth to there – a tiny boy with a mental disability. There is no special medical treatment available for him in the camp. Their new son. Their innocent daily reminder of the devastation of their lives.
They have nowhere else.
There are a million stories like this. A million people who need help. A million opportunities for us to make a difference.
Now Mima and her family face a new threat. Coronavirus.
As Bangladesh began to officially report cases of coronavirus and imposed a lockdown, it also confirmed the first case in Cox’s Bazar – the area where the Rohingya camps are located.
In the camps, people live in tiny, crowded shelters. There is no space for social distancing. Healthcare is scarce and stretched. Sanitation is poor, illness is already rife and basic things like clean water and soap are in short supply. People’s immune systems are depleted by lack of enough good food.
Tens of millions of people around the world – in places like Bangladesh, Syria and across Africa – are facing the pandemic in refugee camps without access to our most basic defences against it.