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.
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.
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