Yousuf Janabali, living with his family in Clonakilty since 2000, recently travelled to his native country of Bangladesh, to volunteer at one of the Rohingya camps.
Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees have built makeshift shelters on steep, sandy hills in Bangladesh. They’ve fled what the UN has called ethnic cleansing in neighbouring Myanmar.
The refugees – more than 800,000 living in a series of camps covering 3,000 acres – are in urgent need of emergency food and nutrition support. Basic services, in particular shelter and sanitation, are badly needed. Conditions in the settlements and camps are now so critical that disease outbreaks are inevitable.
This is the fastest growing refugee crisis in the world and refugees arriving in Bangladesh—mostly women and children—are traumatised, many arriving with injuries or having lost family and friends.
“It’s so sad and distressing”, said Yousuf, who visited hundreds of families while he was there. “So many children have lost their parents and have made this journey with neighbours, so really they are all on their own and have absolutely nothing. The children just cry all day for their mothers.
“One nine-year-old boy I spoke to sobbed as he told me his story. His family had a farm and didn’t want to leave the animals so the Myanmar’s security forces took his father away, raped his older sister in front of the family and shot the others. He and a brother were hiding in an outside toilet so they got away.”
Yousuf helped to build a water pump and a latrine during his time at the camp, which houses over 300,000 refugees.
As the monsoon season approaches in April, the Government of Bangladesh, supported by UNHCR and its partners, are in a race against time to ensure the refugees are as safe as they can be to deal with potential floods and landslides.
“It rained once while I was there,” says Yousuf “and it was very bad – the soil became very soft and muddy, and because the camp is on a hillside, it was very dangerous.”
Yousuf and his wife Salma have four children. “When I told my children about the plight of these people, they asked me if they could keep their own food to send over there!” he says emotionally.
Yousuf (47) is from a poor farming family in Bangladesh. His father owned two cows and a few goats and earned 15 cent a day working as a labourer.
“I remember one day needing a pencil, costing less than one cent, for school and my father could not afford to buy it for me,” he recalls.
Yousuf paid his way through secondary school by working as a tutor for the children of a wealthy family.
After finishing school, he was employed to run a shop and office, working seven days a week for seven years for the owner. “He gave me food and board and €150 at the end of the seven years.”
Yousuf needed €300 to travel to Malaysia to work in a factory, so his father sold his farm to make up the money.
“My first day there, I earned €4 for eight hours work, which seemed like a fortune,” he recalls.
After one month, Yousuf was able to send €150 home, which his parents used to buy a little house.
In 2000, after working his way up in a five-star hotel in Malaysia, Yousuf was able to afford to move to Ireland.
Today, as well as running his own business, a shop in Spiller’s Lane in Clonakilty selling Asian spices and products, Yousuf, a trained chef, supports his family by working as a night porter in the Celtic Ross Hotel, Rosscarbery. He still sends money home regularly to his family in Bangladesh.
“My children appreciate how good we have it here in Ireland,” he says. “As hard as my childhood was, it was nothing compared to what the Rohingya refugees are going through. Never in my life have I seen anything like this. These people are badly in need of our support. We need to open our eyes to it”
Yousuf plans on travelling again soon to the Rohingya camp and hopes to raise enough funds to bring with him to help in building more much-needed water pumps and latrines.
If you would like to make a donation the account details are:
Direct Help for Rohingya.