UKHIYA, Bangladesh (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – When Rohingya refugees began arriving in Bangladesh, after violence erupted in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine State in August, local residents were puzzled to see some toting small solar panels on their shoulders.
“When we saw they were carrying a solar panel with them, I was surprised. I would never do this in such a situation,” Jashim Uddin, a tea stall owner in Ukhiya, in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Main Uddin, a government official in charge of Ukhiya sub-district during the Rohingya exodus, said the panels were being carried in despite the sound of gunfire on the border and reports of landmines.
More than 600,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled to Bangladesh from Myanmar’s northern Rakhine State since August, when the Myanmar army launched a crackdown following attacks on police posts and an army base by Muslim militants.
Many reported making an arduous trek lasting between 5 and 15 days along hilly and waterlogged roads – but the hazardous journey did not prevent many of them from carrying a solar panel with them.
“This solar panel saved my life,” said Ayatullah, 18, once a shopkeeper in Myanmar’s Mongdu township and now a resident of the Thaingkhali refugee camp in Bangladesh.
He said he had to take care to avoid Myanmar’s army when he fled the country.
“They were killing everyone they came across. We had to depend on information from our people about the safe route, and a mobile phone was needed for that. This solar panel helped us to charge the mobile phone,” he said.