Across the border

In a Bangladesh hospital’s overcrowded ‘Rohingya wing’, sights and stories of unbearable pain

The government-run Sadar Hospital is the biggest in the district, but has been struggling to cope since thousands of refugees crossed the border from Myanmar.

About twice as many patients as beds are crowded into a bloodstained, dirty hospital ward with old sheets and mattresses strewn on the floor.

The designated “Rohingya wing” at Sadar Hospital in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar is home to hundreds of wounded and sick refugees from across the border in Myanmar who are recovering from machete and gunshot wounds, burns and other injuries.

The government hospital, with 250 beds, is the biggest in the district, but has been struggling to cope since more than half a million Rohingya Muslim refugees, many injured, crossed the border to escape violence in western Myanmar’s Rakhine state.

“This wing alone has 62 patients, but we only have 35 beds,” Liza Nazia, a doctor at the hospital, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “Many of the injured’s family members stay here as well, so it’s hard to come by the total number of people.”

Flooded by sunlight, the Rohingya wing appears spacious from afar, but conditions are dire. Narrow metal beds are lined up against the tiled walls, stained by trails of dried blood.

Patients are seen at Cox’s Bazar Sadar Hospital October 6, 2017. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Stefanie Glinski
Patients are seen at Cox’s Bazar Sadar Hospital October 6, 2017. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Stefanie Glinski

Those who don’t have a bed sleep on sheets or cushions on the floor. Even though many are sick, they wash their own laundry in plastic buckets and prepare food on the dirty floor next to their beds. The smell of cooked rice and lentils mixes with the sweet stench of open flesh in the stuffy air.

Thirty-year-old Dilda Begum was the Rohingya ward’s first patient and arrived just over a month ago. She sits screaming and crying on her bed, her daughter Noor by her side. A large open machete wound on the back of her head, she speaks of her unbearable pain, both “inside and out”.

“I have lost my two sons and my husband and I can’t bear the pain,” she cried, dabbing her wound with a dry cloth.

Some 520,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar since August 25 after insurgent attacks on security forces triggered a ferocious military crackdown.

The United Nations has denounced the offensive as ethnic cleansing aimed at driving out Rohingya – a charge the Myanmar government denies.

Bangladesh border guards reported more than 11,000 Rohingya refugees crossing into their country from Myanmar on Monday, in a sudden surge, the United Nations refugee agency said.

Ten-year-old Noor receovers at Cox’s Bazar Sadar Hospital October 6, 2017. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Stefanie Glinski
Ten-year-old Noor receovers at Cox’s Bazar Sadar Hospital October 6, 2017. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Stefanie Glinski

Hiding with the dead

At the hospital, 10-year-old Noor, who has recovered from a head wound, described what happened to her family.

“Soldiers attacked us and burned down our houses. Two men with face masks ran towards us and started cutting our heads with big knives. I ran away. Dead people were on the ground everywhere,” she said, seemingly eager to tell her story. ““My mother told me to pretend that we were dead too, so we hid for a long time between the people who had died.”

“All I want now is to forget and to go to school,” she added.

While some patients sit quietly, their relatives by their side to soothe them, others lie alone, moaning in pain. “I know all of my patients and I hear them suffer,” said senior nurse Sakiba. “Those with burns and gunshot wounds are hurting the most.”

Many patients, like Dilda and Noor, spent days hiding in the Rakhine jungle before making their escape to Bangladesh.

“Their wounds got infected, but they survived in difficult conditions,” said Nazia, the doctor. “We have fractures, burned body parts, machete and gunshot wounds and we try to treat them as best as possible, without having to amputate a limb.”

Halima Katu, who thinks she is about 70, is the Rohingya wing’s oldest patient. She’s unsure of her date of birth, but remembers the events of a few weeks ago vividly.

“Soldiers burned the bottom of my feet. They tortured me,” she said. “I was carried by a stranger most of the way to Bangladesh.”

Sitting on a mattress on the ground, Katu holds her burnt foot, wrapped in a dirty cloth and plastic bag. She is trying to stop the dark fluid oozing from her wounds from dripping on to the mattress.

Next to her, on a metal bedstead, sits Jomi Ahmed with his nine-year-old daughter Kaida, asleep with her leg in a cast.

Despite his daughter’s injuries, inflicted by a soldier, he says, Ahmed considers himself lucky. None of his family members were killed and his wife and two other daughters are just two hours away in a refugee camp.

“The Bangladeshi government pays for all of our hospital stays,” Ahmed said. “I know that my family will never go back to Myanmar, but still, I am fortunate. I look around this room; everyone is suffering and has lost relatives. I still have mine. The last weeks were the most difficult of my life, but my family gives me strength.”

This article first appeared on Thomson Reuters Foundation News.

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