Crouch End aid worker shares stories of refugees fleeing Myanmar violence

Oxfam aid worker Sultana Begum, from Crouch End, has been working in Bangladesh helping families fle

Oxfam aid worker Sultana Begum, from Crouch End, has been working in Bangladesh helping families fleeing violence in neighbouring Myanmar. Picture: OXFAM - Credit: Archant

A Crouch End aid worker returning from a Bangladeshi camp sheltering Rohingya refugees has described the crisis as “the most brutal” she has ever witnessed.

Sultana Begum, of Coolhurst Road, has spent the past two months listening to the nightmare stories of families fleeing violence in Myanmar to seek refuge across the border in Bangladesh.

“They need food, clean water and shelter, but above all they told me they need to feel safe.

“I’ve been to many of the worst crises in the world, but the refugees’ stories are the most brutal I have ever heard,” Ms Begum added.

The Oxfam manager coordinating the charity’s response to the Rohingya crisis said every person she spoke to had seen “acts of violence and horror” with some witnessing family members being raped or killed in front of them.

On how it felt to be in the camp, Ms Begum said: “You feel a sense of urgency. We are still in the life-saving phase of our work.

“Refugees I spoke to described their dangerous journeys. Hiding in jungles, walking for weeks, going hungry, crossing water, paying extortionate prices for boats, their exhaustion, the fear and eventual sense of relief at reaching Bangladesh.

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“And still they continue to come,” she added.

Ms Begum, who has worked for Oxfam for six years in emergencies including South Sudan, Nigeria and Yemen, leads a team of researchers interviewing refugees about their hopes, dreams and views on returning to their country.

She then meets government officials pushing for better conditions in the camps which sprawl with shelters clinging to steep hilltops.

“Conditions in the camps are woefuly inadequate with overflowing toilets and contaminated water. They are largely unlit and dangerous at night. Women, girls and children are particularly vulnerable to abuse, expolitation and trafficking.”

“Part of my work is to push the world not to fail the Rohingya refugees and help raise their voices,” she said.

“This is a crisis that has gone on for a long time. The refugees I spoke to are deeply traumatized. They told me about their fear of being forcibly returned to Myanmar. However, they expressed their strong feeling they belong in Myanmar and hope of their eventual return to their homes,” she said.