TEKNAF, Bangladesh (AP) — Cellphones to reach out to separated relatives. Bags of spices that remind them of home. Solar panels to bring a little light to their ragged tents.
These are some of the things that group upon group of terrified, starving, exhausted Rohingya Muslims carry with them as they escape the violence that they’ve endured in Myanmar’s Rakhine state over the last two weeks.
The exodus began Aug. 25, after Rohingya insurgents attacked police posts in Rakhine state. The Myanmar government says nearly 400 people have been killed in fighting it blames on insurgents, though Rohingya say they Myanmar troops and Buddhist mobs attacked them and destroyed their villages.
They packed a few precious items into used sacks and bamboo baskets, then fled on foot through forests, or on precarious boats on rain-swollen rivers.
Small solar panels are everywhere in the makeshift refugee camp that has sprouted up to accommodate many of the more than 160,000 people the United Nations says have entered Bangladesh since the violence started.
A little girl carried a panel on her back as she crossed into Teknaf after braving a risky crossing on the Naf River that runs between Myanmar and Bangladesh. The dark-blue-and-white panels are also perched on the plastic roofs of their shelters.
“We got it so that in the dark we can have some light,” said one man.
Others use the solar panel to charge the other possession almost everyone brings:
Tied in plastic pouches and hung around their necks, ortucked into the waistbands of their wraparounds, cellphones allow Rohingya to reach relatives who arrived in Bangladesh during earlier waves of fear-fueled migrations from Myanmar. They also allow them to reconnect with relatives they became separated from along the tricky journeys that bring them to safety.
Those who don’t carry phones still often bring memory cards from their abandoned phones. Some Rohingya said they erased personal photos and videos because they were afraid that Myanmar soldiers would use them to find and persecute their families left behind.
Food in the camps is scarce. Most people eat only when the aid agencies or local volunteers bring bags of food, most often rice and watery curry.
But even in these dire circumstances, many Rohingya have brought with them spices from their homeland: pungent red chilies drying on plastic sheets; fiery chutneys in battered boxes; dried beef in bamboo cases.
“Even if all we get to eat is a plate of rice, we can burn a red chili and mix it and it will taste nice,” says a woman in the Kutupalong refugee camp.
Rohingya had to leave behind the vast majority of their livestock. Cattle now wander among the blackened remains of their incinerated homes.
Some weary travelers, however, managed to tuck a chicken, duck or goose into their bags.