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By UNICEF Australia
13 October 2017

Every child has the right to play. But when you’re crowded into a refugee camp, finding a safe place isn’t easy.

Shuhel is an 11-year-old Rohingya boy who loves school, football and playing games with his friends. Back in Myanmar his family grew rice. He says he was happy.

But then violence broke out across his home of Rakhine state and Shuhel and his family were forced to flee.

Now he is another newly arrived, poverty-stricken refugee in a makeshift camp in the neighbouring country of Bangladesh, one of an estimated quarter of a million children who are struggling to survive against the odds.

“We walked here in mud which was up to my thigh. We were starving for 14 days,” says Shuhel.

“After coming here from Myanmar a family gave us a meal of rice. We built a shelter with money given to us by someone else.”

Every day is a fight for survival in the newly established refugee settlements of Cox’s Bazar. Rohingya children tell us they witnessed shocking violence in Myanmar. They continue to be faced with a situation no child should have to endure.

“Now, there is no food in our home, nothing we need. We need latrines and water,” says Shuhel.

There is however a little ray of light in Shuhel’s day – the time he spends in a UNICEF-supported ‘child-friendly space’ in Balukhali makeshift settlement. Physically this space is no more than a sheet of plastic held up by bamboo poles. But psychologically it’s crucial to children’s recovery – a place where they can be children again.

In his nearest UNICEF child-friendly space, Shuhel gets the chance to play that he deserves. It’s the beginning of a long journey to recovery. © UNICEF Australia/Matthew Smeal

“I play football, skipping, Ludo and more games are available there,” says Shuhel.

While he and his friends play the board game Ludo, young girls play with dolls. Outside more children are kicking a ball.

“When the children first came here they were scared,” says Lutfur Rahman, the centre manager.

“There was trauma in their eyes and faces. But slowly when we started supporting them and behaving as their friends, then they’re trying to be friends with us too.”

UNICEF takes child-friendly spaces to children living through the world’s most dire emergencies. Together with our partners we aim to give children a place of sanctuary, somewhere they can relax, play, and most importantly, feel safe. So far in the new Rohingya refugee settlements we have set up 76 of these spaces but we are working to establish many more.

Child-friendly spaces give Rohingya children a chance to giggle, relax and feel safe after the stress of fleeing home.
Child-friendly spaces give Rohingya children a chance to giggle, relax and feel safe after the stress of fleeing home.
© UNICEF Australia/Matthew Smeal

They’re also critical for the more than 1,400 Rohingya children who have arrived in Bangladesh in the last five weeks without parents or guardians. Spending their days in our child-friendly spaces keeps these children off the side of the road and away from the insidious reach of traffickers. Children are in grave danger of being trafficked in the transient camps of Cox’s Bazar. Girls are also at risk of being sold off as child brides.

UNICEF is committed to returning children like Shuhel to school. Once children’s immediate needs of food, water, shelter, sanitation and health care are met, they need an education. We will prioritise bringing these children educational packs, including books and pens. But for now we are concentrating on the bare essentials and setting up child-friendly spaces with our partners is one of them.

10-year-old Sehera and her friends lead a welcoming song at a nearby learning centre for children.
10-year-old Sehera and her friends lead a welcoming song at a nearby learning centre for children.
© UNICEF/UN0126287/Brown

"I feel good at that place. But when I remember my country then I think when I will be able to go back?"

Shuhel may never be able to return to the place he was born, even though it’s where his family lived for decades. There has been so much hardship already in his short life and so much more lies ahead.

Still our child-friendly space brings a smile to Shuhel’s face and, for all his suffering, here his eyes even temporarily light up.

*Shuhel’s name has been changed for his protection.

Give safety and hope to Rohingya children

It’s sad and outrageous to see children put through this horrific ordeal but there is something powerful you can do to help from right here in Australia.

UNICEF is providing safe spaces, clean water and health care for Rohingya families stuck in this crisis and we need your help to reach every child in danger. Your emergency donation can help set up more child-friendly spaces filled with toys, costumes and educational supplies. You'll deliver medicine, safe drinking water and therapeutic food to treat malnourished children and save young lives. 

Please don't wait: give generously to help children now.

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