Anwara Begum used to be preoccupied with Ramadan preparations, which included stocking up on chickpeas and noodles and making plans to distribute food to orphans and the elderly in her town in Myanmar’s Rakhine State.
The holy month used to be filled with days of cooking with her older daughter, according to the 50-year-old.
They would spend hours in the kitchen preparing various meals to break the fast, including steaming glutinous rice, banana bread, and vermicelli dessert.
“Sharing iftar with other people as much as I could with what I had, greatly filled my mind with contentment and enjoyment at that time,” Begum told Arab News.
“Of course, that would be the greatest memory of my life,” she remarked.
“Recalling that pleasant time literally hurts me a lot and breaks my innocent heart into pieces.”
Begum was one of over 740,000 Rohingya refugees who fled to neighboring Bangladesh in 2017 as a result of a horrific military campaign that the UN calls genocide.
Life — and Ramadan — had never been the same for Begum in the five years since she began living in the huge encampment in Cox’s Bazar.
“No sooner had we arrived at the camp, everything was completely transformed into a challenge,” she explained.
“The injustices that were done to us in Myanmar forced us here into a life of poverty, unemployment, and uncertainty.”
The Rohingya, who are mostly Muslim, are suffering worsening conditions as international help to the community has decreased since 2020.
The United Nations World Food Program decided to reduce food rations earlier this year after its appeals for the Rohingya were not satisfied.
This Ramadan, the Rohingya’s harsh circumstances as refugees are exacerbated.
“The meal we eat daily in the camp as iftar is neither hygienic nor healthy,” Begum said. “Expecting a wonderful iftar is almost surreal.
We can’t even buy what we need for a month because we are now receiving less aid than in previous months.”
When Nosima Khatun lived in Myanmar, she said she used to cook luri fira, a traditional Rohingya bread made with rice flour that her family used to eat with beef curry for iftar.
“I wanted to make my family happy with the utmost joy during holy Ramadan,” Khatun explained to Arab News.
“In Ramadan, I had a great moment of joy and fulfillment that is irreplaceable with anything else in life.” Those nice memories have faded since she became a refugee in Bangladesh. “I’m trapped in an unprecedented situation, like a bird in a cage.”
“My reliance on rations has rendered me helpless,” Khatun explained.
Khatun can only serve a few things for the pre-
dawn meals of suhoor and iftar these days, such as chickpeas and dates. What little she has is “not enough” for her four-person family, she claims.
“Whenever I remember the old days in my homeland, I sink into an ocean of serious grief because I will never have that time again in my life,” she explained.
Tasmin Begum, 35, said her life had been hampered by challenges in Myanmar, where her husband was compelled to work minor jobs because employment in the public sector was barred to Rohingya.
The Rohingya are not recognized as an indigenous ethnic minority in Myanmar. Most members of the long-
persecuted community were rendered stateless under the country’s 1982 Citizenship Law and were not counted in the 2014 census.
Even though public gatherings and celebrations were difficult even during Ramadan, Begum would make the most of it by spending several hours in the kitchen, cooking a variety of steamed appetizers and rice cakes, among other foods.
“I began to suffer the pains of refugee life after fleeing to Bangladesh,” Begum explained. “During Ramadan, I can only eat chickpeas and puffed rice.”
The Rohingya women Arab News spoke with for this story expressed a desire to return to Myanmar, fearing lengthy lives as refugees.
However, they, like so many others in their society, want their rights to be protected. “There are innumerable sufferings in refugee life — no respect, no dignity to survive as a human being,” Anwara Begum explained.
Khatun want to return to Myanmar as soon as possible because “I want to die on Myanmar soil.” Tasmin Begum shares a similar desire.
“I wish I could return to Myanmar with our rights restored because I don’t want to spend the rest of my life as a refugee,” Begum added.
“I don’t want to be a victim of genocide in my own country.” “All I want is to live the rest of my life peacefully.”