Humanity & Inclusion’s teams are concerned about COVID-19 spreading in overcrowded camps for Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, which have a population density of 40,000 people per sq. km. It is incredibly difficult to social distance under these conditions, and the situation could deteriorate quickly.
Due to the coronavirus, humanitarian organizations are much less active in the camps. Humanity & Inclusion has adapted its work in order to assist the most vulnerable individuals—people with disabilities, older people, and isolated women and children.
We’ve continued organizing rehabilitation sessions and providing psychological support to people living in the camps in compliance with safety guidelines, such as wearing masks and social distancing. We’re also providing refugees with awareness messaging on the virus.
Some people in the camps believe that prayer or a special herbal tea can help protect them from the virus. Others fear that they will be captured or killed if catch the illness. Humanity & Inclusion’s teams provide them with information on COVID-19 and help raise their awareness on the pandemic in order to better protect themselves.
Humanity & Inclusion’s teams and voluntary workers provide psychological support to people in need. They help individuals manage stressful situations and provide personal support, including to women who are experiencing difficulties because they feel isolated or anxious.
We also run protection activities in refugee camps by assessing and reporting safety incidents in the camp, and by identifying people who need support and referring them to relevant organizations.
Humanity & Inclusion works to protect the most vulnerable
As of May 20, we count 166 new projects that aim to protect our beneficiaries and staff from the virus, and to help them during their countries' lock downs. As COVID-19 takes aim at our planet's most vulnerable neighbors, we're ensuring that people with disabilities, people with injuries from conflict, children, women, and especially older people have the information--and even the soap--to stay healthy. Learn more about our COVID-19 response.
Wednesday May 20, 2020
Cyclone Amphan, the strongest cyclone to form in two decades in the Bay of Bengal, made landfall on Wednesday, May 20 near Sagar Island in West Bengal, India, not far from the border of Bangladesh at around 5:00 p.m. local time (7:00 a.m. EST).
According to CNN (as of May 21, 8:32 a.m.), more than 80 people have been killed and thousands more left homeless. Evacuation efforts seemed to have saved many lives, but it could take days to realize the full extent of deaths, injuries, and damage from the storm.
With teams already on the ground in Bangladesh and India, Humanity & Inclusion is closely monitoring developments, and considering a possible emergency response. Experts stand ready to assist the most vulnerable people, including those with disabilities, new injuries from the storm, older people and more generally people who are displaced from their homes.
The coronavirus made it difficult to evacuate millions of Indians and Bangladeshis to temporary shelters. Bangladesh opened more than 13,000 cyclone shelters—nearly triple the usual amount—to keep them less crowded. Evacuees must wear masks inside and maintain physical distance.
Protecting the most vulnerable
We are particularly concerned about our beneficiaries—people with disabilities, older people, people with chronic illnesses, and vulnerable individuals. We're especially worried for individuals and families living in refugee camps, where staying safe from a storm like Amphan, and not catching a virus like COVID-19, is extremely challenging.
Humanity & Inclusion is in close contact with our partners and teams on the ground in Bangladesh and India, and hope they can all stay safe while protecting themselves, their families, and HI beneficiaries from both emergencies.
Photo caption: Satellite image of Cyclone Amphan on May 18, 2020. Credit: Cyclocane
Jean-Loup Gouot, Director of Humanity & Inclusion in Bangladesh, tells us more about our work in aid of Rohingya refugees in the light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Nearly one third of our teams are continuing our ‘essential’ work and providing response to the COVID-19 epidemic. Other staff members have adopted alternative working methods—they work from home or do not work at the moment—and are ready to help if we need to beef up our emergency response.
For people living in refugee camps and host communities, our teams organize awareness-raising sessions on good hygiene practices to stop the spread of COVID-19. We also identify people requiring medical care and refer them to partner organizations, and provide personal psychological support to the most vulnerable individuals—the Rohingya refugees who need it.
Humanity & Inclusion has made two warehouses available—in Unchiprang and Dhumdumia—where national and international humanitarian organizations can store humanitarian equipment, a fleet of trucks can transport humanitarian aid such as hygiene kits and mobility aids, and relief for other organizations, to people living in hard-to-reach areas. We have noticed an increase in the number of trucks transporting specialized equipment in response to the coronavirus emergency.
As many Humanity & Inclusion staff members are working from home or are temporarily off work, our human resources team has developed an online training platform to build the capacities of our national and international teams. Over the next few days, they will be able to access more than 150 compulsory, recommended or optional online training courses, including on the humanitarian response to COVID-19, which can also be accessed by other colleagues in Nepal.
We aim to adapt our activities to assist Covid-19 victims and expect to launch a number of new projects very shortly.”
Archive Photo: Humanity & Inclusion staff conduct an emergency intervention in a Rohingya refugee camp in Bangladesh in 2018.
In the corner of a dark hut, ten-year-old Shumira is busy with her make-up bag. A mirror directs thin rays of sunlight onto the little girl's face, revealing cheeks reddened by the mixture of face powders that she has put together. Shumira, who lives at the Teknaf refugee camp in Bangladeshis, is getting ready to go and play outside.
When she was younger, Shumira began to experience difficulties with posture and movement, which led to a gradual reduction in her activities. Her mother tells us that her daughter used to spend days in bed, unable to walk because of the stiffness in her limbs due to cerebral palsy. The days passed and blended together, when a Humanity & Inclusion mobile team knocked at her door.
A bamboo frame to help her to stand tall
Thanks to a makeshift standing frame made by Mohafuzur Rahman, a physical therapist with Humanity & Inclusion, today, Shumira can stand tall. "I learned how to do it on the internet," says Mohafuzur, adding that he asked the family to provide the materials needed for the device. "It wasn't all that hard. I wanted to involve Shumira's family in her recovery process."
Now Shumira fastens herself into her bamboo device twice a day: once in the morning and once in the evening. This allows her to play with her make-up collection—one of her favorite activities. This exercise seems to be paying off since she's beginning to be able to stand up without assistance. "It makes me happy to see her standing up straight and moving," her mother says. "She's even begun to go outside."
Crutches to go farther
Shumira made such good (and rapid!) progress that Mohafuzur decided to give her crutches. But learning to walk with crutches is not always so easy. "At first, I thought I was going to fall. I was afraid," says Shumira. After a few tries, Shumira became more confident and managed to string some steps together. "Now, I'm not afraid to use them, and I felt so good the first time I went outside!," she exclaims.
Mohafuzur visits Shumira regularly to give her physical therapy exercises. Each time, they practice walking with the crutches together. "I know that Mohafuzur is there to help me." Shumira's progress has been impressive since she met the Humanity & Inclusion mobile team two weeks ago. But the young girl knows that she must progress one step at a time.
Living in the Teknaf camp
At Teknaf, 274,000 refugees are crammed into makeshift shelters. Many families have been living there for a few years, and many children have been born there. Humanity & Inclusion deployed two mobile teams in 2017 and also runs other inclusive activities, such as the Growing Together project, supported by the IKEA Foundation.
Since August 2017, more than 910,000 Rohingyas have fled Myanmar's military crackdown, taking refuge in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. Humanity & Inclusion (operating under the name ‘handicap international’ in Bangladesh) has worked in Rohingya refugee camps since 2007. As one of five NGOs present in August 2017, to respond to the massive influx of refugees, the association has since helped more than 85,000 people across 19 refugee camps, including Kutupalong, Balukhali, Unchiprang and Nayapara. With host communities also becoming vulnerable, more than 1.3 million people are now in need of humanitarian assistance.
Rohingya refugees remain highly dependent on humanitarian aid, and their future is uncertain.
"Many Rohingya refugees have a disability or are in a critical medical situation,” explains Jean-Loup Gouot, director of Humanity & Inclusion in Bangladesh. “These particularly fragile people have reduced mobility, live in an environment that is not adapted—there are no ramps, or even streets—and are socially isolated, which makes them even more exposed to the risks of violence, abuse, exploitation and violence. Our priority is to enable everyone to have access to basic and specific services, such as health care, rehabilitation, psychological support, and other services."
Our donors have helped…
✅ 13,000+ people attend rehabilitation sessions
✅ 9,100+ people benefit from psychosocial support sessions
✅ distribute 1,800 mobility aids (walkers, crutches, etc.)
✅ organize fun activities for children living in the camps
✅ build 2 humanitarian storage centers, with 15 trucks to move humanitarian supplies
✅ distribute 1,000 kits with cooking utensils, blankets & food (4,000+ beneficiaries)
✅ distribute 12,700 food rations (63,500+ beneficiaries)
✅ distribute 900+ housing kits
When floods, storms, and droughts strike, people are forced to flee their homes, putting them in danger's path. For people with disabilities, the consequences can be deadly. It is crucial that local people and humanitarian agencies, like HI, are trained directly in case of a natural disaster. Being more prepared for such events would save lives.
Humanity & Inclusion's teams are working to ensure that people with disabilities and vulnerable individuals are not forgotten when disasters strike through our Ready for Action (REACT) project. Launched in 2016, the goal of REACT is to enhance HI's capacity to respond to emergencies in a timely and effective manner.
Last month, two staff members from Humanity & Inclusion's headquarters in Lyon traveled to Bangladesh, a country vulnerable to natural and man-made hazards, for an emergency preparedness workshop with our local team. Together, our staff created an emergency response plan, and a plan to reinforce their emergency operations and support preparedness capacities. Outcomes included the previously-mentioned action plan, mapping of resources, and lessons-learned, as well as technical measures in case of emergencies.
Thanks to this vital collaboration, our team can share this life-saving knowledge with the local people, so they too can be ready for action!
Photo: Bhabani Rout, 45, who wears a prosthetic leg, leads an early warning mock drill in India.
Preparing for an emergency
Emergency preparedness is a long-term process that requires dedicated time and resources, but it can also help improve the relevance and reach of Humanity & Inclusion's operations. Outcomes include:
- Strengthened hazard monitoring and early warning capacities and processes in the field and at HQ
- Increased capacity to assess emergency needs
- Strengthened capacity to implement emergency response activities
- Strengthened supply chain, including contingency stock measures
- Integration of emergency preparedness and response into strategic programming
- Strengthened external coordination with INGOs, UN agencies and donors and strategic positioning
- Increased ability to anticipate emergency funding needs and to access emergency funds
How does the Ready for Action (REACT) project work?
The Emergency Division supports programs in the project implementation. Services include:
- Capacity building on emergency response through capacity diagnoses and simulation exercises
- Facilitation of workshops to launch the preparedness process and help teams develop an EPR Plan
- Operational support to HQ and field teams in the response to emergencies and EPR plan follow-up
The projects targets HQ and field teams, with a focus on contexts that are most vulnerable to natural and man-made disasters. It also targets local partners, particularly in contexts where Humanity & Inclusion may respond to emergencies by working through local NGOs. The process involves all departments, including management, programming, technical, logistics, finance, HR and security teams, both at HQ and field levels.
In a corner of the Humanity & Inclusion center in the Ukhiya camp, Bangladesh, six-year-old Hamas finds joy bouncing on a large pink ball. Hamas, who has cerebral palsy, does rehabilitation exercises with Redwanul, an HI physical therapist, in order to relieve the extreme tightness in his muscles. Lacking medical care in his native Myanmar, however, his diagnosis came too late to prevent the onset of serious disabilities.
Solar panels have just been installed on the roofs of the HI rehabilitation center, but the building still needs several electrical connections to fully light its rooms. Redwanul is thus leading Hamas through the session in a rather dim setting, while Saidunamin, the little boy's father, observes the session closely. When they return home to their simple, makeshift shelter in the camp, Saidunamin will be the one helping Hamas do the exercises.
Hamas' problems started soon after his first birthday. Saidunamin was at a loss back then: "The hospitals didn't know what to do and didn't offer any care," Saidunamin explains with emotion in his voice. "Hamas’ problems only got worse. A year later, he could hardly move."
Hamas's muscles now have a tendency to contract all the time, causing a general paralysis that mostly affects his arms and legs. Exercises are crucial for reducing his stiffness.
Four of Saidunamin's six children have some form of disability. Their disabilities are especially challenging for a family in a refugee camp like Ukhiya, with its dirt roads and near complete lack of accessible facilities. "My wife is also disabled, so I have to care for Hamas by myself,” says Saidunamin.
In these circumstances, the HI center offers a haven for refugees who need help. Here, people with disabilities and their family members receive the resources they need to improve their lives.
Redwanul explains to Saidunamin that support for beneficiaries extends beyond the services offered at rehab center. HI can refer beneficiaries to partner organizations to receive additional specialized care. An HI technical consultant will visit the family soon to see what other services they might benefit from. Redwanul sends Saidunamin and Hamas home with the words, "we are here to help you."
For the last 17 months, Humanity & Inclusion has been bringing emergency assistance to thousands of vulnerable Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. Teams have identified the most at-risk refugees, including people with injuries, disabilities, and physiological trauma, and have been providing them with rehabilitation, counseling, shelter kits, and other necessities.
Gabriel Perriau, Communications Officer for Humanity & Inclusion Canada, recently visited Cox’s Bazar and shared the following report.
After 30 hours of air travel and a ride in a “tum-tum”—the Bangladeshi version of rickshaw—I was relieved to finally arrive at Cox's Bazar to get a bit of rest. A fishing port and tourist destination located along a 75-mile stretch of beaches, Cox's Bazar attracts the richest Bangladeshis. Paradoxically, this small seaside town has also become a hub for foreign humanitarian aid staff who work at the nearby Rohingya refugee camps.
The next day would be my first visit to a refugee camp, Ukhiya, which is crowded with more than 625,000 people, all waiting for a better future. The camp was formed in 1991 by a small group Rohingyas fleeing violence in Myanmar and has expanded dramatically since 2016 with the massive new influxes of Rohingyas.
In the morning, we drove some 20 miles out of the city. Gradually, the jungle gave way to a bleak landscape of makeshift shelters crisscrossed with narrow paths cut into the red soil. Plastic tarps and thatched roofs stretched for miles. The scenery was striking, but the sweltering heat was even more powerful.
To help us understand the difficulties the Rohingyas are facing, our local Humanity & Inclusion colleagues took us to meet several beneficiaries. First, we met Ali, an elderly man who had experienced a stroke that left him paralyzed on his left side. Ali explained to us how hard it is for someone with mobility challenges as nothing in the camp is designed for people with disabilities.
We then visited Sokina, a young woman who is permanently bedridden due to cerebral palsy. She could not speak, but when her eyes fixed on mine, I felt a sense of her suffering.
With each harrowing story I heard, I struggled to walk away. I felt the appreciation the beneficiaries and their families had for the HI staff supporting them. I could see how vital our work is to them.
Later, at an HI rehabilitation clinic, we met six-year-old Hamas and his father, Saidunamin. The physical therapist performed exercises with Hamas, who has cerebral palsy, while his father watched closely. At home, Saidunamin is Hamas's primary caretaker. Four of Saidunamin's six children have some form of disability. This is a significant burden for a family in a refugee camp like Ukhiya, with its rough roads and near complete lack of proper facilities.
With tears in his eyes, Saidunhamin told us how he completely relies on help from aid organizations to get by. The physical therapist tried to comfort him while I looked on, unable help.
Once the session ended, Saidunamin stood up and took his boy in his arms. He told the physical therapist, "shukria"—thank you—and began the long walk back home along a dusty path. My colleagues and I got into our small Toyota truck and headed back our hotel in Cox's Bazar.
At home, the newspapers occasionally mention the Rohingyas' struggle, and our government emphasizes the urgency of their situation. Nothing, however, could have prepared me for what I witnessed firsthand. It's hard to remain indifferent to the fate of these men, women, and children. They are thousands of miles away from us, but their humanity shows us how alike we are.
Help ensure critical aid reaches families who have fled with nothing.
Humanitarian and civil society agencies working in Rakhine State in Myanmar and in the Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh are deeply concerned that the repatriation of refugees will commence in mid-November, according to an announcement of the Joint Working Group of the Governments of Bangladesh and Myanmar on October 30, 2018.
The Governments of Myanmar and Bangladesh have made assurances to the refugees and the international community that repatriation will only happen when it is safe, voluntary and dignified. We call on both governments to stand by their commitments.
The UN has repeatedly stated that conditions in Myanmar are not conducive to return at this time. Refugees continue to flee Myanmar and facilitating repatriation now would be premature. The involuntary return of refugees from Bangladesh to Myanmar, where their lives and safety remain at grave risk, is a violation of the fundamental principle of non-refoulement.
Refugees have consistently told us that they want to return to their own homes and places of origin, or to places of their choice. They want guarantees that they can enjoy equal rights and citizenship. They want assurances that the extreme human rights violations they have suffered will stop, and those responsible for the violence they fled will be brought to justice. They do not want to return to conditions of confinement with no freedom of movement or access to services and livelihoods. They fear that these conditions will become permanent, like the situation in Central Rakhine State where 128,000 Rohingya and other Muslims have been confined to camps with no freedom of movement for over six years.
Most of all, refugees tell us that they are afraid. They fled to Bangladesh to seek safety and they are very grateful to the Government of Bangladesh for giving them a safe haven. However, they are terrified about what will happen to them if they are returned to Myanmar now, and distressed by the lack of information they have received.
"We really want to go back, but not without citizenship...," says a refugee woman living in camps, in her mid-thirties. "They must give us citizenship and a normal life, like the other people are living in Myanmar…. They need to keep us in peace and not hurt us.
I have a brother back in Myanmar. … They are still afraid to sleep at night. They are still afraid to be killed in their beds. After coming here, through the blessings of Allah and the Bangladesh government, we can sleep at night. But my brother, he cannot sleep at night.”
As the UN agency mandated with the protection of refugees, UNHCR must play a key role in any organized return process, including providing refugees with objective, up-to-date, and accurate information in relevant languages and formats to allow them to make genuinely free and informed choices about whether and when they would like to exercise their right to return, obtaining their consent and monitoring that conditions are safe for return in Myanmar.
We call on the Governments of Bangladesh and Myanmar to uphold their commitments, and ensure that refugees in Bangladesh are able to make free and informed choices about return, based on access to full and impartial information about conditions in Rakhine State. UN agencies should have unimpeded access to all parts of Rakhine State in order to provide this information and to monitor the situation in areas of potential return.
Note to editors
- For further information about conditions necessary for safe and voluntary return please see a joint statement by INGOs in Myanmar issued on December 8, 2017.
- Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina publicly affirmed Bangladesh’s commitment to not return Rohingya refugees to Myanmar until the conditions are conducive including “guaranteeing protection, rights and pathway to citizenship for all Rohingyas” at her UNGA statement on September 25, 2018 in New York. The Government of Myanmar has also made public statements that refugees should return “voluntarily in safety and dignity."
- For further information about human rights conditions inside Myanmar see the full report of the Independent International Fact Finding Mission on Myanmar published on September 18, 2018.
- The fundamental principle of non-refoulement is the cornerstone of international refugee protection and prevents the return or expulsion of a refugee “in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion." [Article 33 of the 1951 Refugee Convention]. Even States that are not signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention are bound by the principle of non-refoulement which is a recognized principle of customary international law. Human rights law (the 1984 UN Convention Against Torture, and the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights) also prohibit the return or expulsion of a person to a country where they would be in danger of torture or persecution. For more information – see UNHCR Note on the Principle of Non-Refoulement.
- For more information on international standards relating to Voluntary Repatriation, see UNHCR Handbook on Voluntary Repatriation.
Photo caption: Rohingya women wait for humanitarian aid at a refugee camp in Bangladesh where HI works.
Violence affects one in three women in their lifetime. Globally, women with disabilities are ten times more likely to experience sexual violence. Over the next three weeks, Humanity & Inclusion will address the violence against women with disabilities at the 71st session of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, organized by the United Nations in Geneva from October 22 through November 9.
25 years of work
Humanity & Inclusion implements projects to address violence in six countries around the world by raising women's awareness of their rights and helping them build self-reliance. In Rwanda, HI provides psychological support to victims of physical and sexual violence, including women, and organizes discussion groups. In Rwanda, Burundi, and Kenya, our team works to combat sexual violence against children, including children with disabilities, who are three to four times more likely to be at risk of violence.
Making it Work
HI launched the Making it Work Gender and Disability project to promote good practices in order to eliminate violence against women and girls with disabilities. The aim is to ensure that women's voices are heard and that the risks they face (violence, abuse, and exploitation) are taken into account in the projects implemented by other organizations in the fields of humanitarian action, human rights, feminism, and gender-based violence.
Gender and disability intersectionality in practice: Women and girls with disabilities addressing discrimination and violence in Africa
In June 2018, Humanity & Inclusion's Making it Work project published the report, “Gender and disability intersectionality in practice: Women and girls with disabilities addressing discrimination and violence in Africa,” which presents nine best practices for women’s organizations in six African countries. Women leaders with disabilities presented the report at the Conference of States Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in New York.
Humanity & Inclusion works to prevent violence based on disability, gender and age and its disabling consequences in development and fragile settings, as well as to provide holistic care for survivors of violence, exploitation and abuse. HI’s goal is to ensure that people with disabilities and other at-risk groups are less exposed to violence and can live in dignity, independently, and with control over their own lives. View the flier here.
This committee is the body of independent experts that monitors implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women
 Kenya, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Burundi, Pakistan, and Bangladesh.