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  • 17.12.2018

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Fun and games amid Rohingya camp chaos
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17.12.2018

Fun and games amid Rohingya camp chaos

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A ring of barefoot youngsters are jumping and shouting with glee as they bounce a giant beach ball over a wildly flapping parachute.

Other children crouch giggling underneath the red, blue and yellow sheet as part of the game.

It's a rare lighthearted moment, in arguably one of the most miserable places on earth.
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The kids are part of a still-growing mass exodus of 646,000-odd Rohingya refugees who have fled Myanmar for neighbouring Bangladesh since a military crackdown in late August.

Villagers were massacred, their homes slashed and burned, women gang raped and babies thrown on fires and burnt alive.

Survivors endured treacherous jungle journeys and river crossings to make it to camps like Balukhali, an hour away from the holiday resort town of Cox's Bazar.
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It's a vast, hilly, tent city that used to be forest. By April, when the monsoon season hits, it could be landslide central.

But for now camp residents are focused on the business of daily survival.

'Never ending fun' reads the somewhat ironic T-shirt of a young man filling up a red bucket at a well.
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Rohingya men, and boys as young as 10, trudge through mud as thick as cake batter carrying heavy bamboo poles and bags of bricks balanced on sticks for constructing makeshift shelters.

The risk of getting bogged along the tracks is so great, even the free-range cows have learnt to use the sandbag bridges.

Scores of mothers in black robes and colourful headscarfs, patiently line up at a Save the Children food distribution point to collect their household's rations - a 25 kilogram bag of rice, a parcel of lentils and cooking oil.
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There's a haunting sadness in their eyes.

One mother tells AAP, she has no hope for the future at all.

Moving deeper into the bowels of the camp, there's a faint smell of smoke as families cook their lunch on fireplace stoves in their tents.
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Food is also on the agenda at a health clinic run by the same aid group, but it's a three kilometre trek up and down hills and across sludgy ditches to get there.

Severely malnourished children are given a special peanut paste called plumpy'nut to help them regain their strength and avoid organ failure.

Wriggling toddlers with cheeky grins are measured against a cartoon giraffe board.
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The day AAP visits, medical staff wearing masks are on high alert for patients with sore throats - a thick grey membrane covering the tonsils is a tell tale sign of deadly diphtheria.

So far there have been 110 cases and six deaths, mostly children, with a lack of vaccines meaning only kids under six can be immunised.

But on a brighter note Rohingya children seem to have cured the ailment of boredom.
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They've been engineering elaborate kites from plastic bags and sticks and fly them high on the hill tops over the chaos.

* Donate to Save the Children's Rohingya Crisis Appeal at www.savethechildren.org.au/rohingya or by calling 1800 76 00 11

* AAP reporter Lisa Martin and photographer Tracey Nearmy travelled to Bangladesh with assistance from Save the Children.
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