Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh – On a fateful August morning two years ago, Safina Begum, now 23, fled from her charred village in Maungdaw district in Myanmar and slogged through marshland and paddy fields for three days to reach the Kutupalong refugee camp in neighbouring Bangladesh.
“They [Myanmar army] killed my father and two brothers in front of my eyes. I ran away for my life,” Safina, who has taken shelter in Shalbagan camp for Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, told Al Jazeera.
While life in the refugee camps is not easy, Safina said she at least does not have to fear for her life here. “If I go back there, I will die.”
Like Safina, nearly a million Rohingya live in 27 refugee camps in southern Bangladesh.
Most arrived there two years ago when more than 700,000 Rohingya fled to Bangladesh after a brutal military crackdown by the Myanmar army that started on August 25, 2017.
They joined hundreds of thousands of Rohingya who were already living in Bangladesh, having fled earlier waves of violence during the 1970s and 1990s.
Akbar Ali, 52, wants to go back. But he says his daughters, one of whom was allegedly raped by the Myanmar army, are too traumatised to go back.
“My heart cries for my home in Rakhine state. I have spent all of my life there. I used to have farmland. Here I have nothing, living the life of refugees,” said Ali.
A second attempt to return 3,400 refugees last week failed as refugees said they feared going back to Rakhine without a guarantee of citizenship rights and safety.
Kulsum Begum, who lives with her son, daughter-in-law and grandchildren in Shalbagan camp, told Al Jazeera she was content that they have food and shelter in refugee camps.
She said she “doesn’t ask for more from God”.
“I only wish my son had a job, but it’s very hard for a refugee to get one,” she said.
Many Rohingya refugees have started small enterprises in the camps.
Shafiq (who didn’t reveal his surname) was four when he came to Kutupalong camp with his father in 1991.
Now, 32, he runs a tailoring shop inside the Nayapara camp. “I get a lot of orders from the refugees as I can sew the clothes according to the latest fashion trend.”
Shafiq said he can’t remember anything about his homeland.
“I came here as a child. I have lived as a refugee all my life.”