Eshoroma lies on a woven mat in a crude bamboo shelter. This two year old is wearing her best dress as her mother gently strokes her hair. This is not a happy family reunion. Nor is it a time for joy and celebration. Little Eshoroma is being prepared for burial, the victim of disease that is decimating her distraught Rohingya community.
Since August 650,000 Rohingyas, many of them injured or starving, have fled across the border from Myanmar to Bangladesh. This mass flight of people has created a real catastrophe. Camps are rife with diseases, water supplies are contaminated, toilet facilities are grossly inadequate, malnutrition has set in and children are being exploited and trafficked.
The organisation, Doctors Without Borders, claims between 10,000 and 13,000 Rohingyas have been killed in recent months. This includes 1,000 children who were shot, beaten or burnt to death. A recent article by Lindsay Murdoch in the Sydney Morning Herald refers to an “unimaginable horror” that is taking place in Myanmar. It’s more than a humanitarian crisis. It’s genocide.
At Christmas we focus on another small child, born in a stable to parents who had very little. He, too, had to flee persecution as Mary and Joseph made the risky journey, child in hand, to Egypt to escape the murderous regime of King Herod.
This child is, of course, Jesus, the one we call “Emmanuel” – “God with us”.
God chose to reveal God’s love, grace and mercy to us in the form of a vulnerable little child born to parents of no consequence who, like the Rohingyas of today, had to seek refuge in a foreign land.
Surely this means every child is important. Every child is significant. Every child is special. Every child is born to bear the very image of God and to remind us that all children are sacred. Every child must, therefore, be cherished, valued, nurtured and protected.
Little Eshoroma is now buried in an unmarked mass grave along with thousands of others somewhere in Bangladesh. Tragically, this child never had a chance.
On Christmas Day, when we celebrate the birth of the child Jesus, remember all the children of this world. For, every child has the right to safety, protection and wellbeing. Every child has the right to survive and live, especially that little Rohingya girl now buried in her best dress.
Rev John Barr