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Singer Jessie Ware close to tears over Rohingya children’s chilling drawings of horrific genocide

Unicef UK Ambassador Jessie Ware visited refugee camps in Bangladesh before Christmas in her support of the aid group (Image: UNICEF)
By Grace Macaskill / Daily Mirror
 
There are the usual pictures of homes, trucks, helicopters and stickmen – but the houses are on fire, the lorry is running over people, the helicopters are raining down death and the stickmen are killing with machine guns and machetes 

Chart star Jessie Ware is close to tears as she stares at the rows of ­disturbingly violent images.

What makes the horror more chilling is that they were drawn by children.

There are the usual pictures of homes, trucks, helicopters and stickmen.

But the houses are on fire, the lorry is running over people, the helicopters are raining down death and the stickmen are killing with machine guns and machetes.

The ground is strewn with bloodied ­victims. One stickman hangs from a tree.

The pictures are not the works of active young ­imaginations – but records of what these children have seen.

They were drawn by Rohingya youngsters who had fled from Myanmar to a safe haven in Bangladesh after ­witnessing families being ­butchered and raped.

Many of the traumatised ­victims of atrocities had walked for days.

Rohingya children draw at the children friendly space at the Balukhali makeshift refugee camp (Image: UNICEF)
Jessie visits a Child Friendly Space run by UNICEF in the Kutupalong camp (Image: UNICEF)
Their pictures have been seared on the mind of singer Jessie (Image: UNICEF)
Minara, 16, poses in their home in Kutupalong camp in CoxÕs Bazar, Bangladesh (Image: UNICEF)
A drawing by a Rohingya boy, Abdul, shows people shooting each other (Image: UNICEF)

 

They arrived sick, ­exhausted and in ­desperate need of ­water, food and shelter.

Their pictures have been seared on the mind of singer Jessie, a Unicef ambassador whose Devotion album was a UK No5 in 2012.

She spoke exclusively to the Sunday People after touring Kutupalong, Moinerghona and Balukhali refugee camps in the Cox’s Bazar district of Bangladesh.

Unchiparang refugee camp in Coxs Bazar, Bangladesh (Image: UNICEF)
Jessie interacts with children at child at a leaning centre in Katupalong camp (Image: UNICEF)
Girls at work at the UNICEF Butterly Learning Centre in Kutupalong camp (Image: UNICEF)

 

Jessie said: “The drawings were so ­upsetting. Those children have seen things that nobody should be forced to see. It’s been horrendous for them.

“At the camp there were youngsters ­walking about on their own, some just three or four, carrying tiny babies on their hips.”

Refugee settlements were home to at least 300,000 Rohingyans before the slaughter and ethnic cleansing of Myanmar’s Muslim minority started in August.

Unicef UK Ambassador Jessie Ware (Image: UNICEF)
A drawing by a Rohingya boy, Kashem, revealing his experiences while fleeing from Myanmar (Image: UNICEF)

 

The migration has turned into a flood. Now more than 670,000 Rohingyans have fled state-led militia massacres.

A conflict started after a group of Muslims allegedly gang raped and murdered a Buddhist woman.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has called it a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing”.

Jessie visits refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh (Image: UNICEF)
A drawing by a Rohingya girl, Aecha, revealing the horrific experiences she endured while fleeing from Myanmar to Bangladesh (Image: UNICEF)

 

More than 1,600 children who are ­separated from their families are among the wave of ­exhausted, sick, hungry and thirsty refugees seeking sanctuary.

They bear terrible testimonies of the atrocities they have witnessed, as Jessie, 33, discovered when she met 16-year-old Minara.

Speaking from the safety of Unicef’s child-friendly space, Minara told Jessie how her mother and father were murdered and their village was burnt to the ground.

Unicef UK Ambassador Jessie visits Balukhali camps (Image: UNICEF)
The pictures are not the works of active young imaginations – but records of what these children have seen (Image: UNICEF)

 

Jessie was visibly moved as she recalled their harrowing conversation. She said: “Minara lost a sister and brother in the chaos and is convinced they are dead.

“Since she arrived at the camp she’s been reunited with a cousin, Amina, but nothing can take away the pain of losing her closest family. She told me how militia men tried to rape her before she was able to get away from them and run.”

Jessie welled up and asked: “Can you imagine seeing your parents die, then ­mutliple men trying to rape you?”

Hasina Begum and her children Formena Akhtar and Mohamed Yunus outside their home in Balukhali camp (Image: UNICEF)

 

For Minara, the child centre is the one place where she can be herself again.

She said: “I feel happy when I go there. There are toys and I like drawing. It helps me forget my bad situation and pain.”

At the centre Jessie met kids aged ­between seven and ten. The ­youngsters poignantly sang We Shall Overcome. There were smiles as she encouraged them to join in with her rendition of If You’re Happy and You Know It.

Jessie with children as she visits a Child Friendly Space (CFS) run by UNICEF (Image: UNICEF)

 

But the moments of joy are short-lived for the children who live every day with the horror of what they show in their ­drawings. Jessie, who has a 15-month-old baby daughter, was left shaken by the story of 25-year-old mum Hasina, whose husband and baby were shot in front of her while her seven-year-old son was matcheted by militia. Jessie said: “Her husband was shot through the back by a bullet that also hit their ten-month-old baby, then her seven-year-old son was killed with a machete.

“She ran away with her five-year-old Mohamed and Formena, who is two and a half, and hid in the forest for 15 days living on biscuits and milk given to them by villagers who took pity.

“Eight weeks earlier Hasina had lost her husband and children and she was struggling to look after her surviving children.

Jessie talks to Lalu Bibi as she plays with her daughter Sufira at the UNICEF Outpatient Therapeutic Programme in Moinerghona Camp (Image: UNICEF)

 

“She was dead behind the eyes yet still worried that her child did not have a warm jumper for the winter while the other was dressed in just a vest and shorts. It’s horrific. Yet Hasina’s story just scratches the surface, there are similar terrible stories from other refugees.

“Hasina described the moment she lost her husband and children as feeling ‘like the whole earth fell on top of me’.”

She and her children were suffering from malnutrition when they arrived in Bangladesh and needed to be fed special high-calorie diets.

Boys fly a kite on a hill overlooking a refugee camp in Coxs Bazar, Bangladesh (Image: UNICEF)

 

Around 50 per cent of children in the camps have anaemia, about one in four have diarrhoea and up to 60 per cent have respiratory infections.

Unicef has administered almost 90,000 doses of cholera vaccine and immunised almost 450,000 kids against measles and rubella. Despite the horror they have been through, families are working hard to make camps like homes, said Jessie.

She said: “Those that existed from as early as 1982 are working villages but many are simply tarpaulin.

“I visited one that was situated right next to dirty wells which were full of ­contaminated water.

“I saw an amazing water system while I was out there and no matter how desperate these people area, and they are desperate, they are trying to make the camp work for them.”

Jessie, pictured in concert in Hollywood, spent four days at the camp before Christmas (Image: Getty)

Jessie, whose elder sister Hannah is an actress who appeared in ABC’s intense drama Betrayal, said her work with the humanitarian charity has made her realise how blessed she is in life.

Jessie spent four days at the camp before Christmas and said: “I was able to go back home on a plane, step off at the other end and go home to my 15-month-old, well-fed child and hug her tight.”

“Hasina and Minara will never be able to erase what they have seen.

“I can’t stop thinking about them and I can’t stop talking to people about their stories and what they have been through.

“Their plight, what they have been through, is something that will stay with me for ever.”

To donate to Unicef UK’s Rohingya refugee appeal please visit unicef.uk/donatemirror.