These days, 25-year-old Seno Wara has a lot on her mind.
“[How] do I nurture my children? How do I educate my children? Can we survive or not? These things make me think.”
Seno Wara, a Rohingya refugee from Myanmar, fled to Bangladesh together with her husband and their three daughters, ages 7, 3, and 1. They are part of the more than 900,000 Rohingya refugees from Myanmar who fled Bangladesh after violence escalated in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine State in 2016. Around 80 percent of these refugees are women and children. Seno Wara’s family now lives in limbo in a refugee camp in Bangladesh.
“We are concerned about the future. We are staying at the camp and my husband does not have a job. What we will do?”
The Rohingya have faced decades of discrimination and statelessness, and spikes in violent attacks have led them to escape to Bangladesh over the years. Due to the most recent rise in violence, people are seeking safety in refugee camps around Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, which hosts more than 900,000 people, making it the world’s largest refugee camp.
Girls are trafficked, girls are tortured. We feel anxious.
Seno Wara says the living situation in the camp is dire. It’s overcrowded, unsanitary, and the food rations are insufficient.
Former CARE Bangladesh Country Director Zia Choudhury called the Myanmar Refugee Crisis is “the worst conditions I have seen” in 20 years of working with refugees.
This desperate standard of living coupled with the uncertainty of the future leave Seno Wara with many questions.
“We do not have any money. What we will do? How will we feed our children? How many years do we have to stay in [the refugee] camp? And also how many years will the government feed us? How we will survive?”
Rohingya refugees have fled to Bangladesh
As a mother of three girls, Seno Wara has another concern — human trafficking. Seno Wara says there are girls who have been “forced or convinced” to leave the camp.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, “the dangers of abduction and trafficking are relatively small but real.” In 2019, the UN agency reported intervening in more than 170 cases of missing persons, abductions, and kidnappings in the refugee settlements, adding that the real number is likely far higher.
In a seven-month period in 2019, the International Organization for Migration identified 420 cases of human trafficking after victims came forward, with Bangladesh law enforcement rescuing at least 250 Rohingya from traffickers over a similar period.
“Sometimes they [traffickers] get caught at the check post, but some leave silently,” Seno Wara says. “Girls are trafficked, girls are tortured. We feel anxious.”
As a result, she is afraid to send her daughters to school, worried they may be kidnapped. “Why do they [harass] our girls?” she asks.
Of all the questions Seno Wara has, one lingers: “We’ve already lost our identity… I keep thinking, ‘Why can’t we live in peace?’”
Women like Seno Wara, who are fleeing emergencies, risk violence and exploitation on the road to safety. See other women’s stories and fight with CARE to make #WomenEqual.
Video and photo shot by Josh Estey.