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12:15, 01 February 2018

Leda Journal: When Is a Refugee Story True, and Why Does It Matter?

Leda Journal: When Is a Refugee Story True, and Why Does It Matter?


LEDA, Bangladesh — The 4 young sisters sat in a huddle, together but alone.

Their accounts had been dramatic: Their mother had died when their property was burned by soldiers in Rakhine State in western Myanmar. Their father was one particular of thousands of Rohingya Muslims who had disappeared into official custody and have been feared dead.

Somehow, the sisters — ages 12, 8, five and two — produced their way to refuge in Bangladesh. An uncle, who had been living for years in the Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh, had taken them in, adding the girls to his personal collection of hungry young children.

“My parents were killed in Myanmar,” stated the eldest girl, Januka Begum. “I miss them quite considerably.”

I was reporting on kids who had arrived in the camps without having their households. An international charity, which had provided financial assistance to the uncle, brought me to meet the girls.

Within an hour, I had a notebook filled with the sort of quotes that pull at heartstrings. Little of it was accurate.

Following 3 days of reporting, the truth started to emerge. Soyud Hossain, the supposed uncle who had taken the girls in, was really their father. He had 3 wives, two in Bangladesh and one particular in Myanmar, he admitted. The kids have been from his youngest wife, the one particular in Myanmar.

In any refugee camp, tragedy is commodified. Aid groups want to assist the neediest cases, and people speedily comprehend that the story of four orphaned sisters holds much more worth than that of an intact family that merely lost all its possessions.

To compete for relief supplies distributed by aid groups, refugees find out to deploy women with infants in their arms. Crying babies get pushed to the front of the line.

The Kutupalong refugee camp now ranks as the world’s biggest. Almost 700,000 Rohingya have fled for Bangladesh over the previous five months.CreditAdam Dean for The New York Occasions

Such strategies are a all-natural survival tactic. Who wouldn’t do the same to feed a family?

But false narratives devalue the genuine horrors — murder, rape and mass burnings of villages — that have been inflicted upon the Rohingya by Myanmar’s security forces. And such embellished tales only buttress the Myanmar government’s contention that what is taking place in Rakhine State is not ethnic cleansing, as the international community suggests, but trickery by foreign invaders.

The official narrative in Myanmar goes like this: Rohingya Muslims are illegal immigrants from an overcrowded Bangladesh. With Muslim guys taking several wives, the Rohingya are reproducing faster than Myanmar’s majority Buddhists.

There is lots of evidence to counter this claim. Muslim roots in the region reach back generations. The ratio of Muslims to Buddhists in northern Rakhine has not changed a lot over the past half-century.

But with the Myanmar government restricting access to the area where the Rohingya after lived, even refusing to let best United Nations officials into the nation, it is impossible for investigators and journalists to collect firsthand proof of atrocities. Regional reporters for Reuters who attempted to investigate a mass grave now sit in jail.

That is why in the refugee camps in Bangladesh, victims with physical manifestations of their trauma are easier to interview. A fresh bullet wound in a child’s physique is proof that some thing terrible happened.

For each person quoted, I’d estimate that at least a dozen other people had been left in my notebooks. But a reporter’s needed skepticism only contributes to the invasion of privacy. How should it feel for a Rohingya woman, who admits to a stranger that she was raped, when she realizes that her story is becoming doubted?

Yet I have seen Rohingya men and women quoted in the foreign news media telling stories that I know are not accurate. Their accounts, in some instances, are too compelling, like a excellent storm of suffering.

That is not to discount the collective trauma that has compelled nearly 700,000 Rohingya to flee for Bangladesh more than the previous five months. Medical doctors With out Borders estimates that six,700 Rohingya met violent deaths in a single month final year. Even that quantity, the health-related help group says, is as well low.

Newly arrived Rohingya refugees waiting to be registered in Bangladesh in November.CreditTomas Munita for The New York Instances

For 4 days, I interviewed a 9-year-old boy named Noorshad, and his story had it all. In my notebook, he drew images of his property — and the tree from which his parents had been hanged by Myanmar soldiers.

Then he drew the jerrycan he clung to as he crossed the river into Bangladesh. He tied his flip-flops to his waist, he said, with a bit of vine. The sandals were from his dead mother. He glanced at them and sobbed.

But there had been inconsistencies. Noorshad mentioned he liked cricket, a sport popular in Bangladesh but not in Myanmar. His grandparents were killed by the military, he told me, but then he admitted they had died of organic causes.

I discovered locals from the village I believed he was from. It turned out that no 1 had been killed there, a lot much less hanged from a tree.

So where did Noorshad come from? He had been located crying in the marketplace in the Kutupalong refugee camp. Other refugees took him to a college where a pair of females provided hugs and bowls of curry. Obviously, something negative had happened to him, but to this day, no a single has figured out his actual story.

At instances, there is a benign explanation for youngsters telling untruths. Young minds can method lived memories and secondhand ones in remarkably related methods.

“Even if some youngsters have only heard of atrocities, fear has been instilled in them and it is really hard for them to separate what they’ve observed from what they’ve heard,” mentioned Benjamin Steinlechner, a spokesman for the United Nations Children’s Fund in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. “It’s like watching a horror film. Youngsters knowledge it quite differently from adults.”

I have a greater sense of the life of Mr. Hossain, the 4 girls’ father.

His troubles, he said, started when he was briefly back in Myanmar and saw a 12-year-old girl with fair skin and delicate attributes.

A Rohingya kid in her family’s tent at dusk in the Kutupalong camp in November.CreditAdam Dean for The New York Instances

“She was so beautiful,” Mr. Hossain mentioned. “I necessary to marry her.”

Kid marriage is distressingly widespread among the Rohingya, and soon, Mr. Hossain began shuttling amongst his 3 wives. Not each and every wife knew about the other, but Mr. Hossain didn’t consider 3 wives have been as well numerous. His personal father, he said, had six wives and 42 kids.

However Mr. Hossain admitted that he was not adept at balancing household relations. When his four daughters sought shelter in Bangladesh after their village had been burned, Sajida, the wife with whom he has been living in the Leda refugee camp, was furious.

“My husband is a bad man,” she announced, after she ultimately admitted the girls’ true provenance. “I am tired of all his lies.”

Later, when I reached Mr. Hossain by phone, he was seething.

“I beat her when you left,” he stated. “I will beat her again tomorrow.”

Mr. Hossain’s sister-in-law had also explained element of the family’s complex truth. A neighbor later relayed that her candor had earned her a beating from her husband.

Rather than highlight the plight of unaccompanied minors, my reporting had catalyzed domestic violence in two households. I regretted the days of questioning Ms. Sajida, who goes by a single name.

I had discovered her unsympathetic when she said she wished those girls would disappear back to Myanmar. But that evening her husband would beat her. As I stood and judged her for not embracing these 4 girls from her husband’s youngest wife, a cockroach skittered across the floor. A rat followed.

Ms. Sajida started crying.

All around, through the bamboo slats that make up the walls of a Rohingya shelter, children’s eyes followed my movements, wondering what I was performing there and why I had made a grown woman weep.


Published at Thu, 01 Feb 2018 ten:08:59 +0000

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