The Future is Equal

Bangladesh

Bangladesh’s Monsoon: At least five killed in Cox’s Bazar camps

At least five people were killed in the Cox’s Bazar Rohingya camps today, as the monsoon floods that hit Southern Bangladesh earlier this month caused severe landslides and left a trail of destruction. Oxfam is mounting a response to address the immediate needs of the most affected people.

“Nearly 300,000 people across 60 union parishads in Cox’s Bazar have been impacted and thousands have been displaced. The monsoon floods lent another hard blow to hundreds of thousands of refugees already recovering from the fury and destruction of Cyclone Mocha last May,” said Ashish Damle, Oxfam in Bangladesh Country Director.

Oxfam staff tell how in the Ukhiya camp-09, one mother and her one-year-old daughter were washed away by the landslide. In Bandarban, Chattogram region, 30,000 people were stranded, and hundreds lost their homes due to landslides.

“People most urgently need food, cash and temporary shelters. They also need essential supplies for children, hygiene kits, raincoats and torchlights. Oxfam, together with our partners, are scaling up response to ensure those most affected receive the support they desperately need. But the heavy rains have also impacted essential infrastructure making our operations challenging”, said Damle.

 

For media inquiries and further information, please contact:

Rachel Schaevitz, Communications Manager, Oxfam Aotearoa

rachel.schaevitz@oxfam.org.nz 

Rohingya Refugees: working for peace, longing for home

Rohingya Refugee Anniversary

Two years on

There are close to a million Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh – more than 700,000 arrived following the violence of 25 August 2017. Some have been there since the 1990s. Overcrowding and poor infrastructure leaves people exposed to diseases, especially during monsoon season, and lack of legal status prevents refugees from working, studying, getting specialist medical help, or reporting crimes. Oxfam’s Senior Communications Officer in Cox’s Bazar, Mutasim Billah, explains that a ban on refugees working and the lack of education in the camps has left many refugees feeling as though they are treading water.

Two years is a long time for lives to be left on hold, and for many Rohingya this has been the case for even longer.

Though not without worries, some Rohingya refugees in the camps of Cox’s Bazar prefer sometimes to focus on the brighter side, to share examples of how they can help themselves and their communities. They were proud to tell us how they were managing, just getting on with life.

Neighbours in a crowded community

Down a crowded path between the camp shelters, Layla, 30, is a Rohingya woman who has become something of a local hero for coming up with a simple solution to an everyday problem in her neighbourhood. As it starts to rain, we huddle together by her front door in plastic chairs carried over by neighbours, under a cleverly woven awning made of palm fronds and empty rice sacks. I could have reached across the path with arms outstretched and touched both Layla’s front door and that of her opposite neighbour across the path.

Gesturing out the front door, my colleague pointed to the host community village at the end of the lane, not 10 meters from this dense grouping of camp shelters. Layla explained, “When we first arrived here, we did not have a good relationship with our neighbours from the host community. Every day there were quarrels! For us the biggest issue was water. We want water, the host community wants water.  Everyone would just go to the taps with as many bottles as they could carry and collect as much as they could.”

Water is scarce – so how to keep the peace?

“I didn’t want to see the women quarreling at the taps, so I suggested a system. At our water tap, each Rohingya family can take two pitchers of water first. Then, the host community can come and take whatever they need. If there is a bit more water, the Rohingya can come take another pitcher. I fill the containers myself for the families to come and collect.

“I manage it this way to keep the peace in the community. Sometimes people come and thank me, and I feel good. We are managing here like this!

“Neither of us is perfect, but we are very thankful to the local people for letting us stay here. We can be respectful of each other’s values and culture while we are here.

“But if you ask us, we all say we want our citizenship, our nationality. We want to go home.”

The changing role for men

We also spoke to Kabir, who belongs to one of Oxfam’s men’s gender group which meet to talk about changing gender roles, gender-based violence and the specific challenges men face living in the camps and how to cope. Oxfam has 25 men’s groups serving about 500 men across seven camps.

Kabir told us, “There was so much we didn’t know. We learned about our responsibility to our society, our home, and our women. Women work very hard at home!

“Most of the time we forget to acknowledge that. When we were in our own country, no one ever told us to try to understand women’s contributions. Every home had conflicts. Now that we understand this, we don’t have conflict anymore – I don’t fight with my wife.”

Providing personal fulfilment

These men’s groups are not only critical for addressing long term challenges around transforming gender roles in the camps, they also give men like Kabir a place to vent frustrations and build confidence.

He says, “I only had one year of school, I am definitely not an educated person. In the group, I learned to write my name. It feels good writing your own name! Maybe as an educated person, you wouldn’t understand, but this is a really fulfilling experience for me.”

Longing for home

Refugees like Layla and Kabir work hard to find ways to cope, but in many ways, their lives are in limbo.

“Now we are safe. We got a lot of support from the people living in this village. They helped us when there was no one. They provided many things,” says Kabir with deep gratitude.

“But in the future, I just want to go home. The camp is not a good place to live for your whole life. Here we are living on support. Mentally no one is happy as all of us want to go back. But for that, we need our nationality. It is our security. Without having that, we cannot go back.”

Oxfam is providing vital aid including clean water and food to Rohingya refugees. So far, we’ve helped more than a quarter of a million (266,000) people in Bangladesh and we provide ongoing humanitarian assistance to 100,000 Rohingya and Kaman Muslims confined to camps in Myanmar.

Oxfam warns of flood risk to Rohingya refugees as further monsoon rain forecast

Rohingya-Refugees-Monsoon-Oxfam-New-Zealand

Oxfam is warning that thousands of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh are in danger after almost a month’s worth of rain fell in just a week.

Cox’s Bazar is home to the world’s largest refugee camp where more than 900,000 refugees live in fragile homes built from bamboo and tarpaulin.

Elizabeth Hallinan, Oxfam’s advocacy manager in Cox’s Bazar, said: “Days of heavy rain and landslides have left homes teetering precariously on the brink of steep ravines. Roads have turned into rivers and streams run down the steep hillsides between people’s houses.

“Oxfam is rushing to reinforce and repair vital infrastructures like toilets and handpumps. Our teams of Rohingya volunteers are ensuring that the most vulnerable refugees who have been forced from their flooded homes have basic household items and are in touch with the camp authorities.”

Safwatul Haque Niloy, Oxfam’s head of public health, said: “The mega-camp is built on hilly terrain and sandy soil that cannot withstand days of heavy rain. Low-lying areas are completely waterlogged and the ground has been churned up.

“People are worried that their homes will collapse. Our immediate concern is for children, pregnant women, older people and those with disabilities who will struggle to leave their homes in these dangerous conditions.

“We have also started monitoring for outbreaks of diarrheal disease which is a risk when there is contaminated water caused by flooding.”

Notes:

According to the IOM, more than 45,000 people have been affected by weather-related incidents since the end of April, and 5,600 people have been displaced.

Bangladesh is near the beginning of monsoon season, which will last until September. Weather monitoring stations in Cox’s Bazar registered 700mm of rain in the week to Monday 8 July. Average rainfall for July in Chittagong, the province in which Cox’s Bazar is located, is 733mm.

Oxfam and its partners are providing vital aid including clean water and food to Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. So far, we’ve helped more than 266,000 people. You can donate to Oxfam’s Rohingya Crisis appeal here.

Five things I’ve learned being a humanitarian aid worker

Iffat Tahmid Fatema, 28, is a humanitarian public health worker for Oxfam’s Rohingya refugee response in Bangladesh.

I started working for Oxfam last year at the height of the emergency when Rohingya refugees were arriving in huge numbers every day. At that time, I was toiling in a lab at the Asian University for Women in Chittagong pursuing my Master’s degree in Bio Technology, but I knew I wanted to work with real people, face-to-face. What’s happened to the Rohingya people really upset me. I had never seen people living with so little. It really hurt me.

Now I teach Rohingya refugees living in the camp in Cox’s Bazar about health and hygiene, to help them keep well and to prevent a major outbreak of disease. We discuss the importance of cleanliness and personal hygiene like washing your hands with soap after going to the toilet and before eating. We work with volunteers from the Rohingya community, training them so they can teach other refugees and spread good hygiene messages far and wide. The Oxfam team has reached more than 11,000 people in the camps so far.

1. Know what motivates you

In this job you need drive, good communication skills, and initiative. When it’s extremely hot, or raining heavily, or you’re tired, you might not feel like spending another long day in the camps. But then you think of the refugees and how you are working for them – that motivates you to keep going.

2. You have to build trust

Humanitarian work is also about building trust. You have to be sensitive to local culture and traditions. You also have to be able to talk to different groups of people in different ways, from children to older people and Imams, the religious leaders. And you need to be a good observer so you can try to understand how people think.

3. Speak their language

Sometimes the refugees can be uncomfortable with someone who is not like them, so it helps that I can speak a similar language. But the language is also the biggest challenge as the regional language, Chittagonian, is only about 70 per cent the same as Rohingya. Oxfam has worked with Translators without Borders to develop a new translation app in English, Bangla and Rohingya, including specific vocabulary about health and hygiene, so this will be a big help.

4. Be prepared to face challenges

Working in the monsoons has been extremely hard and can be dangerous. When there is a heavy downpour of rain, conditions in the camps become very bad, very quickly. You can sink into the mud and lose your boots. When you climb the dirt steps there is the possibility the whole thing will collapse.

5. Patience is a virtue

The most important thing I have learnt is to be polite and be patient – even though I might be repeating the same thing hundreds of times, such as how to wash your hands. I am very impatient by nature, but working in the camps I have learned how to control my frustrations.

The most satisfying part of my job has been hearing from refugees what a difference Oxfam’s support has made to them. We run regular listening groups where the community can give us constructive feedback. Recently a grandfather told me: “We are happy that you come and you listen to us. Thank you for the work you do.” That made me feel very happy.

Race against time for Rohingya refugees as monsoon rains, flooding and landslides continue

 

While 5000 Kiwis take part in Oxfam’s Ration Challenge in support of refugees this World Refugee Week, Rohingya refugees are facing life-threatening rains and disease as monsoon rains continue to lash the camps in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh.

There have been over 130 landslides, 3,300 damaged shelters and 28,000 Rohingya refugees affected as monsoon rains continue to fall, Oxfam said today.

A survey of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh carried out by Oxfam before the start of the monsoon season found that more than half were almost completely unprepared for the floods, landslides and disease that accompany the monsoon weather, with women most at risk.

Gabriela Luz-Meillet, Oxfam’s Humanitarian Programme Coordinator in Bangladesh, said:

“The monsoon rains are causing flooding, landslides and disease outbreaks in the Rohingya refugee camps. Hundreds of thousands of people are living in temporary shelters, on hills of compacted mud which are completely shorn of protective trees and plants. Those hills could melt into the earth. There are refugees alive today who will not make it through to the end of the rainy season.

“Oxfam is working with the government of Bangladesh and the United Nations to relocate refugees to safer areas and to make the remaining areas as weather-proof as possible. It is a race against time. We are doing what we can but there aren’t enough safe areas for all the refugees who need to move, so it is vital those who remain in danger know what to do in an emergency.”

Luz-Meillet said refugees could anticipate and prepare for the severe impacts of a monsoon in their homes in Myanmar. However now they had fled to Bangladesh they were struggling to deal with the weather.

“Most of the refugees come from small villages where they know how to deal with extreme weather. But now they are living in a huge tent city, disorientated and scared, and they are telling us that they lack the knowledge and resources to survive in this strange new environment. Women are in greater danger than men. They are frequently confined to their homes and do not know how to find shelter or to get help.

“We need to ensure that refugees get the information and resources that they need so they can deal with the bad weather and its consequences. Everyone working on the response needs to consult refugees so they can feel in control of their own lives. Everyone working in the camps is doing their best but we need to make sure that this response meets both the needs of the Rohingya and international humanitarian standards. Work on the ground should be matched by diplomatic efforts by the governments of Bangladesh, Myanmar and others to find long-term solutions for the Rohingya people. We cannot allow these people to endure another monsoon in these dangerous conditions in the camp.”

Oxfam New Zealand’s executive director Rachael Le Mesurier said urgent help was needed to reach the most vulnerable people before the situation worsens. “It’s heart-breaking to see people who have already been through so much – fleeing terrible violence, losing their homes, seeing family members killed – now facing even further hardship as extreme weather threatens their lives, families and homes once again.

“There is a high chance that without urgent assistance, some of these vulnerable people will not survive the next few months.”

Oxfam surveyed residents of the refugee camps in Bangladesh and found that 59% of women and 53% of men do not know how to ensure the safety and security of their families during and after a disaster.

Only around a quarter of refugees surveyed know where the nearest shelter is in case of a cyclone warning, with two thirds of women unaware of its location. Amongst men, 38% of men do not know the whereabouts of a shelter and 34% say there is no shelter.

Oxfam also ran a series of focus groups. All the groups told researchers that their shelters will be unable to withstand the rains, were concerned they couldn’t stockpile food and firewood, and felt reliant on aid agencies. Many thought they would be cut off by the rains and unable to access help, and the female groups feared struggling to feed their families should this occur.

Since last August a camp the size of a small city has been created from scratch, and the scale of the crisis has meant that resources have been mostly focused on the day-to-day efforts needed to supply nearly a million people with food, water, shelter and other life-saving goods.

A total of 200,000 out of over 900,000 refugees are categorised as at risk from flooding and landslides, with around 24,000 of those considered at high risk. So far nearly 25,000 refugees have been relocated to freshly prepared, flattened ground that should be safe from landslides and flooding.

/ends

Notes to editors:

The figures for landslides, damaged shelters and refugees affected are correct as of 15 June 2018.

Oxfam surveyed 383 refugees and 482 households in in the two main refugee areas of Ukhia and Teknaf, giving a 5% margin of error. Oxfam ran a series of focus groups and key informant interviews in Unchiprang and Nayapara camps in April 2018, consulting 109 refugees, of which 46% were women.

Currently Oxfam has provided vital aid to at least 240,000 people and is planning to reach 300,000. It has helped people stay healthy by installing water points, toilets and showers, distributing soap, and talking about good hygiene. Oxfam has installed a sewage facility for 50,000 people, which will rise to 100,000. To help local communities cope with water shortages, it is providing an average of 300,000 litres of chlorinated water daily in the Teknaf area.

Oxfam has provided 23,000 households with vouchers that can be exchanged at local markets for nutritious vegetables and ingredients to supplement their basic rations – including spinach, eggs, dried fish and spices.

Oxfam has a team of 125 staff and more than 1000 community-based volunteers in Cox’s Bazar working hard to provide emergency aid in a $25 million response. This is currently Oxfam’s third biggest humanitarian program, after Yemen and Ethiopia.

The Ration Challenge is a fundraising challenge that shows refugees Kiwis are with them, not against them, by living off the same food rations as a refugee would in Syria for one week. Participants fundraise and the money goes towards supporting those very refugees in Syria as well as Oxfam’s work around the world. It is occurring for the first time in New Zealand this World Refugee Week and so far over 5300 participants have raised almost $500,000.

Donations to Oxfam’s Rohingya refugee crisis appeal can be made at www.oxfam.org.nz.

Photo: Zaheda*, a Rohingya woman living in a Cox’s Bazar refugee camp, attempts to secure her home as well as possible against the extreme weather. Credit: Oxfam New Zealand

Women helping women survive and thrive in Bangladesh refugee camps

Blog written by AJM Zobaidur Rahman, Campaigns and Communications Officer, Oxfam in Bangladesh.

Photo: Maruf Hasan/Oxfam

Women helping women survive and thrive.

Rajiah, 46, fled violence near her home in Myanmar six months ago with her 15-year-old daughter. She is now living in a refugee camp in Bangladesh.

Rajiah is one of close to a million Rohingya people who have fled violence in Myanmar to seek refuge across the border in Bangladesh. This unprecedented number of refugees, of whom more than half are children, has caused a large-scale humanitarian crisis.

Rajiah has been surrounded by women throughout her life as the eldest of 10 sisters. She herself has five daughters, two of which are also in camps living as refugees in Bangladesh with their husbands, while the other two remain in Myanmar. Tragically, Rajiah’s husband disappeared when the violence broke out in Myanmar and Rajiah has no way of knowing where he is. Like so many women in the camp, Rajiah must head up her household alone.

Oxfam has come to know Rajiah as a leader when she was unanimously selected to represent her community during an Oxfam assessment of what their most pressing needs were. Rajiah is well educated and has been working with and for her community throughout her life. She told us that she delivered some 10,000 babies as a midwife in Myanmar.

Now, as a refugee in Bangladesh, she is making sure she puts her experience to good use and supports and provides information to the pregnant women in her community. Her name means “hope” – a true reflection of her personality and life’s work.

Rajiah brings leadership to Cox’s Bazar

Rajiah was born in a relatively affluent family in Myanmar. Education was an important part of her childhood, and her family made sure all the girls had eight years of schooling. Rajiah speaks particularly highly of her father, who she says was the greatest influence in her life.

Rajiah honed her leadership skills from a young age, starting at school as a class leader. Later, organisations who were working in her community, including the UN, selected Rajiah as one of their volunteers. She continued working as a health worker and played a major role in the vaccination process in her area, helping to prevent children dying needlessly from preventable illnesses.

Rajiah is outspoken and confident, a full believer in women’s roles outside the household. That way, she says, women can get knowledge and they can advance – and then other women can also come forward simply by seeing these role models. She is very keen on working and further helping her community, especially the women in her community.

Rajiah shares health information with a pregnant woman in her home in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. Photo: Maruf Hasan/Oxfam

Oxfam is there

Oxfam is planning to organise women’s groups in the camps and Rajiah is the ideal person to lead this process in her community. With her leadership skills, kind and warm personality, she will undoubtedly make great progress with the women in the community.

Oxfam is also currently focusing on providing water and sanitation and adapting to better deal with the crowded conditions and sheer numbers of people. We are drilling wells and installing water points, toilets and showers.

We’re also helping people stay healthy and hygienic by distributing soap and other essentials and working with community-based volunteers to emphasise the importance of clean water and good hygiene, especially as monsoon season approaches.

So far, we have reached at least 185,000 people, and hope to reach more than 250,000 in the coming months.

Your support has been vital in this effort – thank you.

Rajiah on her rounds, walking through the refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. Photo: Maruf Hasan/Oxfam