For World Refugee Day this year, we are launching a campaign, #FaceTowardsHope, to feature the stories of refugees—their strength, their resilience, and their hopes for the future.
Chekufara, 28, a member of Myanmar’s Rohingya ethnic minority, remembers the day she had to flee her home.
“I started the journey from Buthidaung on September 20, 2017, and arrived at the Bangladesh border on October 1, 2017,” she said. “The journey was very horrible. I spent three nights in the jungle. It was a really difficult journey, and I’ll never forget it.”
Myanmar’s Rohingya people, the largest population in the world considered to be without a state to call home, have been persecuted for decades by the Myanmar government and military. In August 2017, one of the largest assaults on their homeland in the western part of the country drove more than 700,000 people across the border into neighboring Bangladesh in a matter of weeks. The ethnic cleansing is ongoing, and there seems little hope of Chekufara and her people returning home any time soon. But even in the midst of tragedy, there are rays of hope. Chekufara and her Rohingya Women’s Empowerment and Advocacy Network is one of them.
Chekufara started the organization in 2017 soon after arriving with her husband and two daughters, aged 6 and 2, in Cox’s Bazar, the sprawling mega-camp near the Myanmar border that has become a refuge for hundreds of thousands of Rohingya. She has organized some 400 women across the camps into a network of volunteers working to give Rohingya women a voice in camp management as well as with political leaders discussing the Rohingya crisis on the international stage.
“I am conducting twice-weekly meeting with the Central Committee members who share information with other members in the camps,” she said. “We are doing some activities without any outside support. We want to educate women and children. So the network now has 15 classes for children, using the curriculum in Myanmar, and five girls and adolescents classes.”
They also seek to strengthen livelihood opportunities and raise awareness about the dangers of domestic violence and early marriage. Additionally, the network trains women in communication skills that will, as Chekufara said, allow “women to raise our voices ourselves.”
“In Myanmar, the government blocked our education,” Chekufara said. “We want to take advantage of the opportunity to educate ourselves here … If we have a women’s group like this in Myanmar, we can speak up for ourselves.”
Behind that sentiment one can hear the yearning for home. Like many Rohingya, she longs to return to her homeland, but she doesn’t know when that will be possible.
“Our goal is to return to Myanmar as soon as possible,” she said. “So the network is trying to empower women in the camps so that they can talk, raise their voices, and fight for justice in Myanmar.”
Rohingya remaining in Myanmar continue to face serious human rights abuses and restrictions on their basic rights. To date, there has been little accountability for the horrific atrocities committed against them, despite ample evidence. “We have mothers and sisters still in Myanmar who are victims who need justice,” Chekufara says. “Above all we need justice.”
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