Yosar Hossein struggles as he walks along muddy paths and flooded creeks in Bangladesh, carrying his baby sister on his back. Barefoot and still wearing his school uniform, the 7-year-old is among more than a half million Rohingya Muslims fleeing violence in neighboring Myanmar.
Nearly two-thirds are children.
“She is very heavy,” says Yosar, who in the last two weeks has lost his father, his house and his country. “I don’t think I can carry her all the way.”
The exodus from predominantly Buddhist Myanmar is the biggest the region has seen in decades, leaving this corner of Bangladesh overrun with tent cities of desperate refugees. It began Aug. 25, when the military responded to attacks by Rohingya militants with a brutal crackdown on members the Muslim minority. Soldiers and Buddhist mobs started killing, looting and burning down village after village.
Yosar’s mother, Firoza Begum, says their home in Rathedaung township was attacked just before dawn two weeks ago. They heard loud bangs and watched as flames swallowed almost everything they owned.
Yosar’s dad didn’t make it out, Begum says. He was shot dead as they tried to flee. But his mom and three younger siblings managed to escape. They walked for six days, together with two aunts and several cousins, eating whatever they could find, resting very little, until they reached the shore of the mighty Naf River.
They piled into an overcrowded wooden boat and headed to neighboring Bangladesh. But the journey did not end there.
The family continued for another day — on foot, inside rickshaws and on the back of a truck — Yosar still in the green-and-white school clothes he was wearing when he left Myanmar.
“I wore black shoes and black socks, too,” says the second-grader, who misses his school. “But I forgot to bring them when we fled our home.”
Finally, on Oct. 2, Yosar and his family made it to a relative’s house in Bangladesh.
He managed to carry his younger sister all the way.