Lalu was lying on a straw mat when our teams met her in October. Born with cerebral palsy, and forced to flee her home in Myanmar weeks before, she had no way to sit up and certainly couldn’t go outside.
Since August, nearly 700,000 Rohingyas like Lalu have crossed the Myanmar border for refuge in Bangladesh. They arrive exhausted, frightened, and in desperate need of basic aid, psychosocial support, and rehabilitation care.
“For Lalu, as for many refugees with a physical disability, the first difficulty in a camp is getting around,” explains Paola Valdettaro, Humanity & Inclusion’s head of mission in Bangladesh. The drainage of roads being almost nonexistent, refugees must dig canals and build bridges with sandbags, making it almost impossible for people with physical disabilities to travel.
Access to water points, health centers, schools, toilets, and other basic services is also a challenge. Sometimes refugees have to go to the other side of the camp just to get food.
Lalu met Humanity & Inclusion in October, and her situation changed within days. Thanks to support from our donors, Lalu is receiving physical therapy sessions that allow her to regain more and more mobility. She also has an armchair which allows her to sit up and move around with support.
It will take months of rehabilitation before Lalu can sit up properly and have enough strength in her arms to be able to move independently. In the meantime, her family cleared the entrance to their shelter by filling the holes in the ground and removing tree roots, so Lalu can go outside to feel the sun on her face and make new friends.
Thanks to you, Humanity & Inclusion has more than 300 staff working in Bangladesh to support the most vulnerable refugees with basic and specific aid, so that people with disabilities like Lalu can live in dignity.
The largest refugee camp in the world is built on tree-stripped hills in a flood-prone area of southern Bangladesh. With annual rains expected to arrive in April and the threat of cyclones looming, Humanity & Inclusion staff in the camps are extremely concerned about the impact of flooding and landslides.
In August 2017, Rohingya refugees fled in masses from neighboring Myanmar and set up rudimentary shelters across a 3,000 acre area in the Cox’s Bazar region of Bangladesh. Kutupalong-Balukhali camp now hosts over 600,000 people and is the largest and most densely populated refugee settlement in the world.
“The threat posed by the upcoming rainy season is likely to worsen from April to August” explains Sophie Dechaux, HI Country Director in Bangladesh. “Almost all trees and shrubs have been cleared to make space for shelters and many have been built on steep hillsides. When the rains arrive, the ground will be unable to absorb the water so we are expecting significant flooding and multiple landslides”
The effects are likely to put even greater strain on already stretched humanitarian services. “Families will be forced to move into safer areas; they will need new shelters. Overcrowding and standing flood water will create ideal conditions for waterborne diseases.”
HI has been supporting the most vulnerable people in the camps since the beginning of the emergency in August 2017. The challenges of the coming months will disproportionately affect our beneficiaries. People with physical disabilities will not be able to move around the camp to access services due to floods and many may not be able to move quickly in the case of a landslide.
HI is working with local authorities and coordinating with other humanitarian organizations to prepare. Our priority is to ensure that vulnerable people are taken into account and will still have access to the support they need.
HI physical therapist, Farhana, works in Kutupalong Camp in Bangladesh, which has become one of the largest refugee settlements in the world. Ibrahim is one of more than 600,000 Rohingya refugees who fled when violence broke out in Myanmar in August 2017 and one of many who sustained life-changing injuries. Farhana shares her experience of meeting Ibrahim and the progress they have made.
“The first time I met Ibrahim was very difficult,” Farhana explains. “After several weeks lying in bed, unable to move, he was very frustrated and had lost all hope. He was withdrawn, uncooperative, and would not even try to sit up.
“Ibrahim is a Rohingya from Rakhine state in Myanmar. He ran from his village when it was attacked in August but he was caught, severely beaten and left for dead. The attack caused serious damage to his spinal cord, leaving his lower body paralyzed.
“During that first meeting, I realized how drastically Ibrahim’s life had changed. Just a few months earlier, he had been a healthy shopkeeper, providing for his wife and two children. Now, he finds himself lying under tarpaulins and completely dependent on his family. I knew that we were starting a long journey together and that providing psychological support would be just as important as the physical care.
“Now, two months on, I really look forward to seeing Ibrahim and I know how important my visits are for him. Progress is slow, which is normal, but he is very motivated and keen to practice the exercises I have shown him.
“Last month, HI provided Ibrahim with a wheelchair and we have been working together to build the strength in his core and arms so that he can balance and push himself. Simply being able to leave his shelter, to buy a few things and chat with neighbors, has made a huge difference to his health and mood; we joke together now and talk about the future.
“This has been my first experience working in a refugee context and, at times, I find the conditions very challenging. Seeing Ibrahim’s progress and the difference my colleagues and I are making to his life is what motivates me every day.”
Humanity & Inclusion’s team of 300 staff have been responding to the urgent needs of Rohingya refugees since the outbreak of the crisis in August 2017.
HI physical therapist, Rubel, walks through a narrow alleyway at the edge of B-block in Unchiprang Camp in Bangladesh. He has been informed that there is a lady living here who has not been able to move for six weeks. He is searching for the right tent. Neighbors show him the way to a bamboo structure lined with thick black tarpaulin, about five square meters large. Noorayesha can just be seen through the doorway lying on a thin mat on the dirt floor; her daughter, Fatima invites Rubel in.
Noorayesha is 55 years old. She and her three adult daughters fled Myanmar in August, when their village was attacked. Noorayesha’s husband was brutally slashed with machetes and died instantly. The women ran and hid in the hills and then walked for four days to the Bangladesh border; crossing deep rivers to reach safety.
Like more than 625,000 other Rohingya refugees now living in unofficial and makeshift refugee settlements, the family has faced a continuous struggle to access food, water, and shelter. Just as things were becoming more stable, Noorayesha suddenly lost almost all feeling in the left side of her body; most likely as the result of a stroke.
Rubel begins a preliminary physical assessment, asking Noorayesha to clench her fists or raise her legs. He needs to assess which movements she can and cannot make and how this is affecting her quality of life. Fatima explains that she and her sisters have to help their mother with most daily tasks; sitting up, washing, dressing and going to the toilet. They are struggling to encourage her to eat and cannot access enough drinking water. Noorayesha never leaves the tent.
Rubel carefully shows Fatima how to conduct a series of exercises that may help to regain some movement in her mother’s arms, legs and hips. He explains to the whole family that these exercises need to be carried out ten times a day, every day and that he will return in five days to assess their progress. He will bring a bed pan and toilet chair with him.
As Rubel leaves, Norrayesha says that she does not want to be a burden on her family; that even if she can only have her left hand back, it would help. Rubel replies that he is hopeful.
Earlier this year, 17-year-old Abu Sadeq and 600,000 other Rohingya fled Myanmar in hopes of finding food, shelter, and a safe place to stay. Abu and ten members of his family made it to the Unichipalong camp in Bangladesh, but not without injury. He tells his story:
“On August 26, my village in Myanmar was attacked. During the attack, I was hit in the cervical and lumbar vertebrae, causing a spinal cord injury. The injury has weakened my upper and lower limbs and I can’t walk properly anymore. I’ve lost the strength in my muscles, my sense of balance, and my coordination, which makes it much harder to do everyday activities.Read more
Ayesha Begum is 22 years old. In early September, she and her three children took refuge in Bangladesh after her husband was killed in Myanmar. Today, Ayesha and her children live with her brothers in a temporary shelter on the edge of Kutupalong camp. She takes part in a parents’ club organized by HI, which provides psychosocial support to mothers living as refugees.Read more
More than 600,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh since August 25 from neighboring Myanmar. Our team is on the ground, providing emergency aid to Rohingya refugees who, having escaped, now live in utter destitution. Gilles Nouziès, HI's head of programs in Asia travelled to Bangladesh to organize activities with our teams. He explains what he saw and what HI is doing to help.Read more
More than 600,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh since August 25 from neighboring Myanmar. Our team is on the ground, providing emergency aid to Rohingya refugees who, having escaped, now live in utter destitution.