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Tragedy meets resilience at Bangladesh Rohingya Refugee Camps

Four-year-old Rohingya refugee Dillnewaz in her shack at the Balukhali refugee camp near Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh on Tuesday, December 12, 2017. Dillnewaz, whose mother is deaf, spends her days playing with her cousins. More than 646,000 Rohingya refugees have crossed the border from Myanmar into Bangladesh, following the Myanmar army's August crackdown on Rohingya rebels in the state of Rakhine. Traveling with assistance from Save the Children. (AAP Image/Tracey Nearmy)

Australian Associated Press reporter Lisa Martin and photographer Tracey Nearmy recently went on assignment to the Rohingya refugee camps near Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh. The pair, who saw the work of aid group Save the Children, tell us their experience.

More than 650,000 Rohingya people have fled Myanmar since a military crackdown in late August. Villagers were massacred, homes slashed and burned, women gang-raped and babies thrown on fires and burnt alive.

Lisa Martin, who went on assignment to cover the story - visiting food distribution points, health clinics, sanitation projects and child-friendly play spaces - was struck by the resilience of youngsters they encountered. One of the most heartwarming moments was when we stumbled upon a group of kids bouncing a giant beach ball over a parachute, she said.

Rohingya children play with a ball on a multicoloured sheet at the Balukhali refugee camp near Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh on Monday, December 11, 2017. The World Health Organisation reported 110 cases of diphtheria in the camps so far. More than 646,000 Rohingya refugees have crossed the border from Myanmar into Bangladesh, following the Myanmar armies August crackdown on Rohingya rebels in the state of Rakhine. Traveling with assistance from Save the Children. (AAP Image/Tracey Nearmy) NO ARCHIVING

Some of them would have seen family members murdered in front of their eyes but despite the traumas, kids still just wanted to play and have fun.

Lisa Martin (left) and Tracey Nearmy (right) at Bangladesk Rohingya refugee camp

Lisa was also impressed by the engineering skills of Rohingya children who were crafting elaborate kites from sticks and plastic bags.

As a youngster, I could never have made a kite like that, despite growing up in Perth with all the trimmings of a western household, she said.

Rohingya children fly handmade kites at the Balukhali refugee camp near Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh, Tuesday, December 12, 2017. Kite flying is a popular pastime for children where options for entertainment are limited. The kites are made from plastic bags, sticks, and string. More than 646,000 Rohingya refugees have crossed the border from Myanmar into Bangladesh, following the Myanmar army's August crackdown on Rohingya rebels in the state of Rakhine. Traveling with assistance from Save the Children. (AAP Image/Tracey Nearmy) NO ARCHIVING

For Tracey, one of AAP's most long-standing photographer, what struck her the most was seeing children looking after other children and doing adult tasks, like carrying heavy loads and walking alone to the forest to collect firewood.In some families, only the children were left to care for each other, taking on roles well beyond their years, she said.

The trip made me realise how lucky I am in life.

A Rohingya child cradles another child at the Balukhali refugee camp near Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh, Tuesday, December 12, 2017. Many children in the camp take on caring roles for younger children along with tasks normally assigned to adults. More than 646,000 Rohingya refugees have crossed the border from Myanmar into Bangladesh, following the Myanmar army's August crackdown on Rohingya rebels in the state of Rakhine. Traveling with assistance from Save the Children. (AAP Image/Tracey Nearmy) NO ARCHIVING

When it comes to capturing the raw scenes taking place in front of her eyes, Tracey said one of the difficulties was trying to be invisible in order to capture candid moments of daily life.

It was sometimes a challenge to direct attention away from myself or wait until my subjects' interest in me had passed so I could photograph them, she said.

Rohingya children play with plastic jars and bottles in the Balukhali refugee camp near Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh on Tuesday, December 12, 2017. More than 646,000 Rohingya refugees have crossed the boarder from Myanmar into Bangladesh, following the Myanmar army's August crackdown on Rohingya rebels in the state of Rakhine. Traveling with assistance from Save the Children. (AAP Image/Tracey Nearmy) NO ARCHIVING

You can view Tracey's photos here. Read some of Lisa's stories here and here.

Aid groups working in the camps are scrambling to contain a diphtheria outbreak that has so far infected more than 2500 and killed 27 people. Donate to the Save the Children crisis appeal at www.savethechildren.org.au/rohingya or by calling 1800 76 00 11.

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