Rosena Allin-Khan, Doctor and Labour MP for Tooting worked as a doctor at a MedGlobal clinic
Labour MP Dr Rosena Allin-Khan travelled to Bangladesh to visit refugee camps on the country’s border with Myanmar.
Last year she was there helping as a doctor. Now, in this exclusive diary for the Sunday Mirror, she reveals the hardship she saw during her return visit, and tells the stories of some of the desperate people whose lives have been torn apart by the humanitarian crisis.
Day 1: Tuesday
I start the 24-hour journey from South London to Cox’s Bazar in order to revisit the camps I worked in as a humanitarian doctor a year ago, in the early days of the crisis. I saw refugees fleeing to safety and, on my return to Parliament, I made sure their stories of brutal horror were shared with the UK Government. Refugees may have stopped coming over the border now, but the camps hold many perils.
The violence and terror that women experienced in Myanmar is something they have not forgotten and it is our duty to ensure the Rohingya are not forgotten by the world. Humanity should have no borders – and this is what spurred me to visit a second time. I want to return to the UK with their stories, to ensure the Rohingya are not a forgotten people.
DAY 2: Wednesday
Three planes, and a lot of coffee later, I land in Cox’s Bazar. Each leg of the journey saw the planes get smaller and smaller as I neared the border of Myanmar.
Once a well-known tourist destination, Cox’s Bazar is now known for the sprawling camps located a couple of hours drive away, housing a million refugees who fled genocide at the hands of Myanmar’s military.
I set about meeting with charities who work on the ground. We spend the evening discussing the dangers for women and children who make up 80 per cent of camp population. Women who were raped a year ago are coming forward, some have given birth to the children of their rapists – something I cannot fathom. These women face social stigma and need psychosocial support.
DAY 3: Thursday
Up at 5:30am and off to the camps with Christian Aid. The sheer scale has to be seen to be believed – the camps go on for as far as the eye can see, over hills, and housing more people than Liverpool and Manchester combined. I meet people who have been queueing since dawn for treatment at the MSF clinic. Medics are facing challenges with disease outbreaks.
Walking through the camps, I am staggered by the number of lone children and the generosity of the families who are helping to support them.
Christian Aid show me their Community Kitchen, a safe space for women and children to forge community ties. Here, women are keen to tell me their stories – something they have never had the opportunity to do so before. I meet Humaira, whose young son was murdered when the army stormed her village.
She tells me how she wanted to kill herself but was kept alive by her desire to locate his body and bury him.
After two days of searching, and at risk of being caught by the military, she eventually decided to escape. She still lives with the pain of not being able to bury him. Next, I meet Subara, who tells me how military snatched her year-old son from her arms and knifed him to death in front of her. The stories are simply heart-wrenching.
Sadly, these are not unique accounts. The strength of these women, and those who crawled over the border to safety while seven months pregnant, is inspiring.
DAY 4: Friday
I visit a number of clinics, including the MedGlobal centre where I spent time last year. It really is fantastic to see a new breastfeeding room and play areas. Children regularly show symptoms of malnourishment, while women are developing skin conditions and infections as they are too scared to use the washrooms at night – and there is no privacy in the day.
Doctors have been treating women who have given birth to children who were the result of rape. There were stories of women dying from blood loss after attempting a DIY abortion, unable to face the reminder of the trauma they experienced.
DAY 5: Saturday
It has been an exhausting and emotional few days and I’ve spoken to some awe-inspiring women about the issues they face every day in the camps. The spirit is one of resilience, which is remarkable given the horrors they have endured.
With constant fear of being forcibly returned to Myanmar, or a cyclone levelling the camp to matchsticks, each day is a worry. The resounding message from these people is that they want justice for their loved ones who were killed. Why should their lives be worth any less than yours or mine? I will continue to put pressure on Jeremy Hunt and the Government to seek justice in the international courts for the Rohingya. Infanticide and rape as a weapon of war, indeed genocide, cannot go unpunished.