LEDHAPARA (Bangladesh), Oct 11 — Hollow-eyed and detached, 11-year-old Rohingya refugee Sayed Nul betrays little emotion as he recounts why his family fled Myanmar: “The Rakhine Buddhists burned my house. Killed people with bullets. And raped the women.”
For the aid workers in Bangladesh dealing with the current exodus of Rohingya escaping sectarian violence of Myanmar’s Rakhine state, it is a familiar and upsetting sight as they try to put young lives back together.
Of the 520,000 Rohingya who have arrived in recent weeks, 290,000 are children, many haunted by the horrors they have witnessed, now crammed into teeming refugee camps with minimal facilities to deal with traumas embedded deep inside so many youngsters.
Aid groups are hurrying to set up schools and safe zones for children in the grim camps as part of the answer.
The few schools that have sprung up offer a brief respite.
At the entrance to the packed Leda camp a handful of learning centres have been set up opposite a brick factory with a smoke-blackened chimney.
Inside one of the classes about 30 children sang, the torrential rain beating down on the canvas roof almost drowning out their little voices.
But memories of the Rakhine violence is never far away.
“These are children, they do not understand what has happened,” Rohingya teacher Shamsul Alam told AFP. “We are trying to make them forget what happened so they are not disturbed,” he added pointing to a bucketful of toys.
UN workers say many of the young exiles never went to school in their country of birth, where the Buddhist majority treat the Rohingya with disdain.
The Myanmar authorities say the military have only targeted Rohingya militants in their crackdown in Rakhine since August 25.
But many of the kids in camps around the Bangladesh border town of Cox’s Bazar recount scenes of massacres, torture and rape.
“Their villages were theatres of war, with the noise and the bullets everywhere,” says Shamail Das, 22, another teacher at the hastily set up school.
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