COX‘S BAZAR, Bangladesh (Reuters) – Twelve-year-old Nur Hafes would rather be in school or playing football with friends at home in Myanmar.
Instead, he waits by the road in Palong Khali refugee camp in southern Bangladesh, looking for visitors who might give him money for his family.
Sole breadwinner for seven younger siblings and his mother since they arrived at the camp in Cox’s Bazar two months ago, Nur spends his days watching for Muslim clerics who distribute money collected at mosques for the refugees.
Opening a brown umbrella, Nur offers to shade the visitors from the blazing sun, which can bring in a little extra cash for food and supplies. (Click reut.rs/2AtT2uy for photo essay on Nur Hafes and his family.)
“Sometimes I get 50 or 100 taka and some days I come back empty-handed,” Nur said, holding up a 50-taka ($0.60) note he received from a donor.
Nur and his family are among the more than 600,000 Rohingyas who have fled to Bangladesh since August to escape a counter-insurgency operation by the Myanmar military after attacks on security posts by Rohingya militants.
United Nations officials have described the military’s actions in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine state as “ethnic cleansing”, an accusation the Southeast Asian nation denies.
The family left their home in Tharay Kone Yoe Dan village in Rakhine’s Maungdaw township when the violence started.
“The Myanmar army burnt the houses with the people inside,” said Nur’s mother, Rabia Khatun.
“I saw many people with gunshot wounds and heard the crackle of houses burning.”
She gathered a few belongings – a blanket to protect her children from rain, identity papers and a couple of old photos – and the family fled to her parents’ village, Zaw Mat Tat, south of Maungdaw.
The next day, the army showed up there, too. Her husband became upset and suddenly left. Rabia has not seen him since.
Left with eight children, six of them younger than 10, she kept going. That evening, the family took a three-hour boat journey to Shah Porir Dwip, on the Bangladesh side of the Naf River.
Now the family relies on Nur for support. He was a huge help in Myanmar, reselling produce in their village market that his father had bought wholesale.
Nur and his mother said they hope he can eventually do something similar in Bangladesh, although Nur also still talks about school and football.
With Nur’s family huddled under a tarpaulin tent and his mother needing help to feed his siblings, the youngest two of whom suffer malnourishment, a normal child’s life is not in his immediate future.
“I know he is young, but he understands his responsibilities. He doesn’t behave like a child anymore,” Nur’s mother said.
Reporting by Adnan Abidi; Writing by Karishma Singh and Tom Hogue; Editing by Clarence Fernandez