Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh – Twenty-year-old Sameron was anticipating the birth of her second child, due in just a few days when the Myanmar army attacked her village and started indiscriminately killing villagers.
Members of the persecuted Rohingya community, Sameron, her husband, Anwar, and their three-year-old daughter, Sabiha, fled their home in Rajarbill in Myanmar’s Rakhine state. It was August 25.
Heavily pregnant, Sameron ran and walked through the night with her family.
“In the morning, we reached a village named Itella,” she recalls. “The village was deserted after the army had attacked it.”
They found an abandoned house with enough food items inside it to sustain them for five days.
But then the army came again. “We escaped,” says Sameron.
The next stage of their journey was the hardest. The family walked for an entire day and night without any food or water.
“I don’t even want to think about that pain,” she says. “I had constant pain in my stomach and I was feeling sick. In the middle of this journey, I started having unbearable pain in my stomach and I would sit down and crouch in an effort to reduce it. I had gone into labour.”
Tears well in her eyes as she recalls it.
“It was the most terrifying phase of my life. I somehow would keep breathing and walking. My husband would carry me and then carry my daughter, who had also started crying from the pain of walking. We were all weeping from pain, desperation and hunger.”
The family eventually reached the village of Mongni Para. There were still people living there and some of the old women helped to deliver Sameron’s baby.
“We had to leave this village after five days. I was in no condition to walk but I somehow managed to reach a place from where we got on a boat to enter Bangladesh by crossing the Naf River. We had to pay 650,000 Kyat (around $477) to the boatman [for the rent of the entire boat]. He initially refused to take us because we didn’t have enough money, but some people helped us,” she says as she stands in a queue with her newborn daughter, waiting for medical treatment at a clinic that has been temporarily set up outside a mosque in the Bangladeshi port city of Cox’s Bazar.
As a result of her strenuous journey and weak state, Sameron hasn’t been able to breastfeed her baby, who she has named Sadiha. “There was hardly any food for any of us as we walked for days. How would I produce enough milk to breastfeed my daughter?” she asks.
Many others are in a similar situation.
Mayang Sari, a nutritionist with UNICEF, says “young mothers and children are the most vulnerable”.
“The extremely stressful and hard conditions have led to mothers and children becoming traumatised,” Sari adds. “This has made it difficult to breastfeed babies and this could become a bigger problem.”