Nearly half a million Rohingya refugees are now living 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.
The Rohingya are a Muslim minority that’s being driven out by Burma’s military, along with Buddhist villagers. Most of the Rohingya refugees are women, children and elderly.
Here is what some of them say they miss most about the homes they had left behind.
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.