In 2017, Ali, like so many others, was forced to leave his village to avoid being killed when the militias arrived, leaving behind his wife and their infant sons. A few nights later, the militia dragged Fatima and other women – many of whom had huddled together in a shack to hide – into the jungle.
The militia assaulted the women over and over again. Nobody could hear their cries and screams. Their husbands and brothers were either dead or running for their lives.
Somehow, Fatima made it back to her village. Before she could bleed to death skilful hands tended to her wounds. However, it is unlikely that she ever be able to bear another child.
A loyal partner
With her parents-in-law, Fatima fled across the border river to Bangladesh, where international aid organisations assisted her in finding her husband. Many Rohingya men abandon partners who have been raped, leaving them alone with the children – and the pain. Ali did not. "For me, it is not an issue to stay with her," Ali said. She didn't choose any of this, he added.
Fatima and Ali live in one of Kutupalong's illegal camps, which were built very quickly last year to accommodate the displaced people arriving in their hundreds of thousands. The structures are basic emergency shelters. They are intended for immediate shelter – not as long-term accommodation.
Fatima and Ali expect that they will have no choice but to remain. Myanmar has not taken measures to issue displaced Rohingya Muslims official papers or to allow them to repatriate. Without valid documents, refugees are officially stateless and at the mercy of Bangladesh's government.
In the camps, women hardly leave their huts – not even in the blazing heat of the Bengali summer, when temperatures soar above 40 degrees Celsius. Monitored by international organisations, 19 women-only huts are spread across the camps to provide some relief. Women who spend a few hours in these safer spaces have access to medical advice. If the power is working, there are even fans that provide temporary relief from the heat. There is a proper toilet and a place to bathe children.
Empathy on the wane
Bangladesh's own history is one of exodus and expulsion. In the beginning, there was empathy and understanding for the refugees. That is slowly changing. Many Bangladeshis have the feeling that their country has already done more than enough to assist the foreigners. Resources are scarce in Bangladesh, which is regularly hit by natural disasters. Cartels smuggle drugs and weapons, leading to increased violence.
There is also a growing fear that young Muslims could be radicalised. People in despair are thought to be particularly vulnerable to recruitment tactics – young people living in the camps are favoured targets of religious extremists seeking new militants. Officially, Rohingya are not allowed to leave the camps or even to work; their children receive only a rudimentary school education.
Fatima wants to return to Myanmar. Maybe her will isn't strong enough anymore to make a new life in a foreign country.
The rain continues to patter on the white plastic tarpaulin roof; the sound has become the rhythm of waiting.
© Deutsche Welle 2018
Ines Pohl is Deutsche Welle's Editor-in-Chief.