Children in Bangladesh’s border villages are seeing their childhoods disrupted by the recent conflict in Myanmar.
Two men have been killed, and as many children injured by blasts from mortar shell launched from across the border.
Many local schools have closed. Even when they reopen, they are sparsely attended.
The authorities also plan to relocate the border centres for the Secondary School Certificate (SSC) exam scheduled for Feb 15.
The children of a Myanmar border guard who fled to Bangladesh amid the fighting are now staying with their parents at Ghumdhum High School. They are also facing difficulties.
Ghumdhum High School, located near Betbunia Bazar in Bandarban's Naikhongchhari, is currently hosting over 200 members of the country’s Border Guard Police who fled the country amid the fighting between the Myanmar government troops and the rebel Arakan Army.
Despite this, the school remains open. On Thursday, Khairul Bashar, the headmaster, was at his office.
Very few of the 515 students enrolled at the school were attending, even though it had been open for several days, the headmaster said.
Parents are afraid to send their children to school.
A mortar shell fell behind the school on Tuesday at 9am. It caused no injuries, but it did lead to a significant decrease in student attendance.
However, the school is closed on Thursday for Shab-e-Meraaj, a religious festival for Muslims.
Bashar mentioned that the school will be closed after Thursday.
His main concern is about the upcoming SSC exams, as the school is serving as an examination centre for 502 candidates.
If conflict erupts again in Myanmar, they will evacuate the centre and move it to Uttar Kunda Primary School, located seven kilometres away.
The plan has been discussed with the Upazila administration.
CHILD INJURED BY SPLINTERS
On Thursday, workers were rebuilding Badsha Mia's kitchen in Jalpaitli village near the Myanmar border.
The kitchen had been damaged by a mortar shell on Monday, resulting in the deaths of housewife Hosne Ara and a Rohingya worker.
Three children were 'shooting guns' in a mock battle near the entrance of the house, which sits on a hill.
Among them, 6-year-old Nusrat Moni had suffered injuries to the knee and waist during the mortar blast.
Nusrat's father, Shafiul Alam, stood nearby with his son, two-and-a-half-year-old Shoaib.
Since the blast, Shoaib has shown signs of discomfort, often crying and holding his feet. On Wednesday, they noticed swelling in Shoaib's left leg, indicating a potential injury.
Shafiul took Nusrat to a doctor in Cox's Bazar, where X-rays revealed three metal objects in her leg and waist, likely splinters from an exploding mortar shell.
The doctors said the surgery needed to remove them was not feasible in Cox's Bazar.
Shafiul showed off the X-ray plate with the marked metal object locations.
He felt torn between grieving his mother's loss and tending to Nusrat's injury, leaving little attention for Shoaib.
However, since Wednesday night, Shoaib's leg has swollen. The village doctor diagnosed him on Thursday, suggesting Shoaib may also have been hit by splinters from mortar shells.
Shoaib sits on his father's lap. Despite her injuries, Nusrat plays with her friends. Nusrat's grandfather, Badsha Mia, interrupts their play to show this correspondent her knee wound.
Badsha broke down in tears discussing his wife's death, but he is now concerned about the safety of his grandchildren.
He noted that doctors in Cox's Bazar had advised against surgery to remove the metal from Nusrat's body.
Now they are discussing the next steps with relatives.
Badsha stated that the Bandarban district administration has assured them of their full assistance.
"Shoaib's legs are swollen, and we're unsure of the cause,” he said. “The DC reassured us that they'll handle everything."
Bandarban Deputy Commissioner Shah Mujahid Uddin visited Badsha's house last Tuesday, delivering a Tk 20,000 donation from the district administration.
They were already aware that a child had been injured in a mortar blast. He assigned the responsibility for the child's treatment to the chairman of the local Upazila council.
Five educational institutions in Naikhongchhari have been closed because of the conflict with approval from the education ministry, the DC said.
KIDS FLEE CONFLICT-RIDDEN BORDER
Very few children are attending educational institutions in border areas. In many cases, their parents have already sent them to safety further from the border. Some parents have returned to their homes for essential chores, but are not bringing their children with them.
Nurul Amin, an autorickshaw driver from Tumbru village, said he had sent his three sons and three daughters to Thaingkhali to stay with his sister after the fighting began. The schools attended by two of his kids are open, but he is afraid to send them there.
Solaiman, a local electrician, was riding on Amin’s autorickshaw. He had bought a broiler chicken from Betbunia Bazar for Tk 230 and was taking it home to Tumbru.
Solaiman said the border could be seen from his house. He and his wife had returned home on Wednesday, but did not bring their four children with them.
Solaiman said he was worried about his children, who had been terrified by recent events.
He and his wife could talk through their fear, but his children couldn’t, the electrician noted.
They were staying with their uncle for the time being, he said.
The barbed wire fence of the border passes very close to the road that winds from Betbunia Bazar to Banshbari through Tumbru. The Myanmar BGP camps on the hills can be seen from the road.
One of the camps is quite close to Corridor Pashchimkul village.
“There was a lot of gunfire here on Sunday,” Amin said. “The Mogs [a local term for the BGP] all fled across to this side. The rebels now occupy all the camps on the other side.”
From the road, people could be seen moving about inside the camps. Their wet clothes were set out to dry.
Amin said that all those inside the camps were insurgents who had occupied the outposts after ousting the BGP.
Rumours have spread that junta forces are coming to take back control of the camps. As a result, some locals are returning to their homes, but they are choosing to leave their children with relatives.
BGB personnel were seen stationed in front of Tumbru Government Primary School. A hundred Myanmar border guards who fled to Bangladesh are currently being held at the location. The Bhajabania Government Primary School a few kilometres away is closed. BGB personnel were seen resting there.
Half a kilometre past the Bhajabania school is a Chakma village known as Headman Para. The head of the village is Kanon Karbari, whose home is around a hundred yards from the barbed wire of the Myanmar border. Past that is a BGP camp on a hill.
Kanon said the children of the village had been evacuated, but the adults stayed behind to look after their crops and cattle.
But a few children were seen next to a small store nearby. Usanu Chakma, their mother, runs the store.
Usanu said she had initially taken her children and gone to Cox’s Bazar when the fighting began. They had returned on Wednesday.
The store is nearly bare because she wasn’t able to bring in any stock amid the fighting, she said. She couldn’t even offer a packet of biscuits for sale.
Students aren’t coming to the schools near the border in Cox’s Bazar’s Ukhiya either.
The Rahmater Bil Primary School in Palankhali Union opened on Thursday, but few students came. Gofuruddin, chairman of the local union council, said the school was open.
But Kamaluddin Miazi, the president of the school board, said that many locals had moved their children elsewhere, which is why there were so few students in attendance.
The school was also providing shelter to 118 BGP personnel. Many of the locals are worried about the presence of the Myanmar border guards at the school and are keeping their children away. After all, there’s no telling what could happen.
Rukhsana, a resident of the border village of Rahmater Bil, said on Wednesday that her family had initially remained at home after the first sounds of gunfire. But, after bullets landed nearby two days ago, she did not dare stay in the area with her four daughters.
The children tend to run about and so, fearing what could happen, she took them to the home of a relative in Balukhali. They returned home on Wednesday after the fighting died down, but ‘have their bags packed’ if they need to evacuate again.
One of Rukhsana’s daughters, 11, was showing off a bullet she had found nearby.
CHILDREN OF BGP CAUGHT UP IN VIOLENCE
Two children were amid a group of BGB personnel who fled across the border during the fighting. The two boys and their parents are being kept in a room on the second floor of Ghumdhum High School. One of them is about 10 or 11, while the other is five or six.
They spent the entire day staring dejectedly out of the window.
Day labourers gather and wait on the side of the Asian Highway near the Ghumdhum High School. The two children sometimes call out or wave to them. The Bangladeshi children nearby respond by waving or making faces at them. It is all the entertainment they have.
The children are the sons of a BGP guard who fled from Myanmar, said BGB Director General Maj Gen Mohammad Ashrafuddin Siddiqui. Their mother is with them.
The wife of another BGP guard is also at Ghumdhum High School, he added.