23 Aug 2023 – The UN and partners call for renewed commitment from the international community for financial support to sustain the humanitarian response and political support to find solutions for nearly one million Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh.
25 August marks six years since over 700,000 Rohingya women, men and children from Myanmar fled to Bangladesh. They joined hundreds of thousands of other Rohingya who had previously sought refuge in the country.
As the humanitarian condition in the world’s largest refugee settlement worsens, the challenges surrounding this protracted crisis continue to increase. Steep funding decline forces humanitarian actors to focus on the most critical and life-saving needs. For the first time, it has led to the reduction of refugees’ food assistance, raising concerns about cascading dramatic consequences: rising malnutrition, school dropout, child marriage, child labour and gender-based violence.
With their strength and resilience, the Rohingya refugees have formed the backbone of the humanitarian response over the past six years and supported the communities hosting them.
UN and partners urge support to enable Rohingya refugees to benefit from education and skills development, vocational training, and other forms of capacity-building. This will equip refugees for their eventual return and ensure their dignity, safety, and productivity in Bangladesh. This can empower them to address some of their needs, as the refugees do not wish to rely on diminishing humanitarian aid.
A dignified and sustainable return to Myanmar remains the primary solution to this crisis. Rohingya refugees continue to tell us they want to return to Myanmar when it is safe to do so voluntarily. The international community must renew its efforts to make that possible. As the United Nations remains ready to support efforts to create conditions conducive to sustainable return, the UN and its partners need to be provided unimpeded, meaningful, and predictable access in Rakhine State in Myanmar, including assisting, and monitoring the return of refugees.
The collective goal should be to ensure Rohingyas’ voluntary return to Myanmar — to their places of origin or choice, being able to move freely and access documentation, citizenship pathways, services, and income-generation opportunities to rebuild their lives.
Until they can return, they remain in refugee camps in an area off the coast of the Bay of Bengal, which is extremely vulnerable to cyclones, flooding, landslides, fire outbreaks and the impacts of climate change. These devastate the congested camps, and their frequency barely leaves time to rebuild shelters made of bamboo and tarpaulin before the next disaster strikes. UN continues to prioritise a climate action strategy, advocating for weather-and fire-resistant refugee shelter materials to save millions of dollars in maintenance and rebuilding costs.
Hosting nearly one million Rohingya refugees, Bangladesh has demonstrated humanitarian commitments and a generosity that must be acknowledged through continued investment in Rohingya refugees and Bangladeshi host communities. The international community must step up to share responsibility for the response. Stakeholders are encouraged to expand their support and commitments through pledges in support of the Rohingya situation at the Global Refugee Forum in Geneva in December 2023.
Humanitarian agencies have appealed for $876 million this year to assist around 1.47 million people, including Rohingya refugees and local Bangladeshis. However, as of mid-August 2023, funds for the Joint Response Plan only reached 28.9 per cent of this appeal, dismally highlighting the need for consistent and predictable financial backing to prevent a broader humanitarian crisis.
A Landmark Step Towards Accessible and Informed Medical Care
In an event held today, the Rohingya refugee community witnessed a monumental stride towards accessible and comprehensive healthcare with the introduction of the General Health Card. The initiative promises to improve healthcare services for thousands living in the camps, facilitating a seamless flow of medical information and enhancing overall well-being.
The Health Sector Lead agency, WHO, spearheaded the development of the General Health Card, an effort that underscores collaboration between healthcare providers, refugee communities, and international organisations. The event, attended by the Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner (RRRC), marked the culmination of meticulous planning and dedicated work.
Designed to consolidate individual medical information, the General Health Card is poised to transform healthcare delivery within the camps. It enables doctors and health care providers to access a patient’s complete health history, including treatment received, surgical procedures, medical investigations, and more – all in one place.
The introduction of the General Health Card carries far-reaching benefits, including:
Immediate Accessibility: Medical information is readily available whenever needed, eliminating delays in diagnosis and treatment.
Informed Care: Healthcare providers better understand patients’ health history, leading to tailored treatment plans.
Continuity of Care: Medical records are portable, ensuring consistent and well-informed care during transitions.
The development of the General Health Card was made possible through funding and support from the UNHCR, IOM, UNFPA, UNICEF and WHO.
General Health Cards will be distributed at designated health facilities within the camps. Community Health Workers will guide residents through the process, ensuring a smooth and organised distribution.
The introduction of the General Health Card signifies a monumental step towards empowering Rohingya refugees with accessible and informed healthcare. By providing an avenue for individuals to actively engage in their healthcare journey, this initiative is poised to positively impact the lives of thousands.
COX’S BAZAR, Bangladesh, 23 July 2023 – Against the odds of displacement, fires burning down learning centres, and Cyclone Mocha’s wrath, classrooms in the Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh are filling up today with children, excited on the first day of school. Thanks to expanded education opportunities for teenagers and girls, a record 300,000 children are enrolled for the 2023/24 school year.
The new academic year marks the first time that Rohingya refugee children of all ages will be studying under the Myanmar Curriculum. Since its launch in 2021, this formal curriculum has gradually been expanded with grades 3-5 and grade 10 opening today for the first time in the Cox’s Bazar refugee camps, significantly increasing learning opportunities for both older and younger children.
In addition to the new opportunities for older children, a dedicated campaign has brought more than 13,000 children who were out of school into the classroom. Efforts to support adolescent girls to continue their education are key to the record attendance this year. Due to social norms, parents are often reluctant to send girls to school once they reach puberty. In response, UNICEF and partners have worked closely with the refugee community to demonstrate to parents the benefits of education for girls, to provide girls-only classrooms, and to organize chaperoning to classes by female mentors.
Delivering education in the largest refugee settlement in the world is an immense operation. One million refugees – half of them children – have lived in the densely populated camps in Bangladesh since 2017 when they fled violence and persecution in neighbouring Myanmar. Education for Rohingya refugee children is provided through 3,400 learning centres – 2,800 of which are supported by UNICEF – as well as through community-based learning facilities.
On the first day of school in the camps, UNICEF appeals for US$33 million to urgently support education for Rohingya refugee children in the 2023/24 academic year.
On a remote island in Bhasan Char, UNFPA is meeting the critical Sexual and Reproductive Health and Protection needs of refugees
Halima*, a pregnant refugee, arrived at the health post five months pregnant and feeling unwell. The midwives at the facility provided her with antenatal care, conducted regular health checkups, to ensure the well-being of her newborn. Life on the island, Bhasan Char was tough, but Halima knew she and her baby were in good hands. She was grateful for the health post, established by UNFPA – one of the few organizations that had responded quickly to the crisis and provided essential sexual and reproductive health services to women and girls living here. She was one of the many women who are receiving essential antenatal care, regular health checkups, and guidance on recommended actions from the midwives present in the health facilities.
“I learnt about the do’s and don’ts during my pregnancy from apa (the midwife), and now I am feeling much better.” – says Halima
With UNFPA’s support, the island saw 2,850 antenatal care visits, 99 facility-based deliveries, 348 postnatal care visits, 4,440 family planning consultations, and 2,960 counseling on family planning and discussion sessions. UNFPA’s efforts have played a crucial role in making Sexual and Reproductive health services available to women and girls, while providing a sense of safety and protection for women and adolescents on the island. Consequently, UNFPA is also providing support in line with the local health system by training midwives, making the essential commodities available and thus strengthening the capacity of health facilities. Moreover, UNFPA established a women-friendly space that provides a secure environment for women to gather, connect, share experiences, and learn new skills. The space offers GBV, SRH, PSEA awareness and information sharing sessions, and skill development on stitching, embroidery, and weaving mats and handicraft items, enabling women and adolescent girls to learn different life skills. Alongside, through the GBV prevention activities women, men, girls and boys are engaged in GBV awareness, PSEA, and referral pathway sessions. Additionally, UNFPA is rolling out the SASA! Together- a structured community mobilisation approach that supports communities to create positive and sustainable changes around norms that perpetuate violence against women. Through the integration of Sexual and Reproductive health and Gender Based Violence, women can access services both in the health post and the WFS where pregnant mothers are provided with essential services to fulfill their reproductive health care needs. The women are also taught about modern methods of contraception so that they can make informed decisions based on their individual needs.
“One of the women who regularly visit the women-friendly space stated – Being in this place gives me a sense of comfort and protection.
Living on an island, with limited options, many adolescent boys and girls struggle to pursue their dreams and lack access to information that could help them make informed decisions. UNFPA also recognizes the importance of giving adolescent boys and girls chances to reach their goals and dreams, especially in the face of limited learning resources. Therefore, the established Adolescent and Youth Centre, offering MHPSS and essential information about gender-based violence and reproductive health issues. Through structured sessions tailored for boys and girls, the adolescents can make informed decisions about their reproductive needs and learn to identify potential risks associated with gender-based violence and at the same time develop some self-reliance skills.
One of the adolescent boys who frequents the A&Y centre was delighted to contribute to the space’s decoration with his drawings and art. He expressed his joy about having a dedicated centre for him and his friends from the community. Such centres provide them with the hope for a better future despite the challenges they face.
“He shared, I drew many things to decorate our rooms, and I loved the opportunity to have a space where I can learn new things, share with others my age, and come with my friends.”
However, to continue providing life-saving integrated Sexual and Reproductive health and Gender Based Violence services to women, men and adolescents and youth (both girls and boys), securing additional funding is critical. UNFPA is grateful to the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF), the Government of Japan, and Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA) for supporting the response in Bhasan Char, and together, we are ensuring that no one is left behind. UNFPA’s efforts have made a significant impact in meeting the urgent needs of Rohingya refugees on the island, providing them with the necessary life-saving services to have a better future.
Cox’s Bazar – The large fire that swept through camp 11 under IOM’s area of responsibility in Cox’s Bazar yesterday (05/03), impacted around 12,000 Rohingya refugees, causing considerable damage to significant sections of the world’s largest refugee camp.
Around 2,000 shelters were destroyed in the fire while many of the affected refugees lost all their belongings leaving many experiencing fear, despair, and hopelessness.
The fire was first reported around 2:45 pm local time on Sunday afternoon, and IOM immediately mobilized response teams to assist the refugees and bring the situation under control in coordination with the local authorities and fire brigade. IOM also mobilized its Disaster Management Unit (DMU) volunteers to create fire breaks to stop the fire from spreading and mitigate the loss to life and property. The cause and origin of the fire are unknown at this stage. Thankfully, no fatalities have been reported thus far.
Immediately after the incident, IOM sent two mobile medical teams with 14 ambulances to assist as needed. Additionally, we deployed our eight trained Communications with Communities (CwC) teams to ensure people have access to the right information. With this, community mobilizers engaged in crowd control and emergency referrals.
IOM is collaborating with other humanitarian actors on the ground to conduct assessments to gauge the damage caused by Sunday’s fire and the immediate and long-term needs for those affected.
IOM, in coordination with other humanitarian agencies, is targeting distribution of emergency shelter kits consisting of tarpaulins, bamboo, and ropes to all the affected families. Less than 24 hours since the fire, 900 Rohingya volunteers have been mobilized through cash-for-work initiatives, to support the removal of debris from the site.
“We are coordinating with other humanitarian actors to ensure that those affected are provided with immediate needs including food; health; protection; water, sanitation and hygiene needs. Following the fire incident, refugees from these camps are looking to recover from the loss, damage and shock; we will support them with assistance for shelter repair/rebuilding and access to cooking facilities – in the form of LPG [liquified petroleum gas] as top priorities in the days to come,” said Fathima Nusrath Ghazzali, Officer-in-Charge for IOM Bangladesh.
The conditions in the camps make large fires a real risk. In March 2021, a massive fire that broke out in the camp resulted in the loss of lives, displaced 45,000 Rohingya refugees, and caused significant damage to the world’s largest refugee camp.
On 2 January 2022, a fire caused significant damage to IOM’s Severe Acute Respiratory Infection and Isolation and Treatment Center (SARI ITC) in camp 20 Extension and was, unfortunately, followed by a second fire a week later where a section of the Rohingya refugee camp 16 was razed to the ground, leaving more than 1,700 refugees affected with no fatalities.
IOM’s initial estimates of the response to the damage in the areas of shelter; cooking fuel; site management and development; water, sanitation and hygiene; and health amount to USD 7.4 million.