Rohingya emergency: “Appalling… inhuman living conditions”

The following speech was given on Oct. 23, by Ludovic Bourbé, Director of the Development Division, Handicap International Federation, on the occasion of the Pledging Conference for the Rohingya Refugees in Geneva, Switzerland. c_V-Cardamone_Handicap-International.jpg

Distinguished guests, colleagues. 

The crisis we are now facing is unprecedented. 

Handicap International has been providing support to Rohingyas refugees in Bangladesh since 2007 in Cox Bazar, directly in camps and informal makeshift camps.

While the situation was already harsh, new people arriving in Bangladesh are desperate, exhausted by days and weeks of walking, sometimes crossing minefields, hiding at nights in the forest, carrying on their shoulders all what they could save in their exile.

The capacity to absorb this massive influx is still limited and access to the population remains dire.

Ladies and gentlemen, since the beginning of the crisis, a blanket approach has been favored by the donors and humanitarian actors, and it is still very much needed. But, this approach ignores and leaves aside the extremely vulnerable ones. Single mothers cannot leave their children unattended to go to distribution sites. People with mobility problems, the elderly, sick and injured people, and unaccompanied children cannot even physically go to the distribution sites, clinics or service centers. Lost in the middle of close to 600,000 refugees this people face life threatening risks, lack of protection and require targeted support yet to be provided.

The level of vulnerabilities is unparalleled.

A rapid assessment we conducted for UNHCR in September among close to 2,000 extremely vulnerable individuals highlighted the level of vulnerabilities.

All people are in desperate need of clothing, drinkable water, food and shelter, more than 65% require psychosocial first aid as they had to go through extremely traumatizing experiences.

7.3% of the people assessed are person with disabilities, in dire need of functional rehabilitation and in urgent need of assistive devices to get their autonomy back as many of them lost it/ being broken during the escape. Elderly people are for the vast majority without caretakers.  Those figures are not just a sample; they are representative of a crisis where the most at risk persons are in need of immediate attention.

We need to hear their voices.

We all recognize that the government of Bangladesh has made tremendous efforts and we urge the government to continue doing so and facilitate the response of INGOs by easing authorizations and lifting bureaucratic constraints.

The size of the humanitarian disaster we are facing requires the expertise of all to meet the needs of these 600,000 children, women and men. Their living conditions are appalling. 

Inhuman, to say the truth. 

And yet, it could get even worse if the camps were to endure, in the weeks to come, severe weather conditions in the form of a tropical storm or cyclone or a disease outbreak. This risk is far too real not to be considered. 

Handicap International is on the ground, ready to continue and expand its support toward the most vulnerable. 

We shall all make sure that nobody is forgotten.

Thank you for your attention. 


By the end of the conference, the Associated Press reported that "U.N. agencies say international donors have pledged a total of $344 million, including $228 million in new funds, to help more than 600,000 Rohingya people who have fled to Bangladesh."