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Two Years Later: The Rohingya Refugee Crisis Continues

Bangladesh. Rachel Elkind/RI
Story

Two Years Later: The Rohingya Refugee Crisis Continues

Relief International’s programs continue to support the diverse needs of hundreds of thousands of the most vulnerable Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh.

Driven from their homes by renewed persecution, more than 750,000 Rohingya refugees scrambled across the Myanmar border into neighboring Bangladesh in late 2017.

The latest arrivals join thousands more Rohingya in Cox’s Bazar who fled previous eruptions of violence against them in the 1990s. Combined with the existing refugee population, nearly one million Rohingya refugees live in Bangladesh today.

It can be difficult to picture life inside Bangladesh’s Kutupalong refugee camp, which doubled in size in the first six months. The sprawling, overcrowded camp spans more than 3,000 acres and is home to multiple generations of Rohingya refugees, many of whom have been displaced two or three times in their lifetime.

With no foreseeable end to this crisis, Relief International’s programs continue to support the diverse needs of hundreds of thousands of the most vulnerable Rohingya. Our photos offer insight into these refugees’ daily life and the essential services we connect them to inside the world’s largest refugee camp.

PHOTO GALLERY

Bangladesh. Rachel Elkind/RI
Bangladesh. Rachel Elkind/RI
Bangladesh. Rachel Elkind/RI
Bangladesh. Rachel Elkind/RI
Bangladesh. Rachel Elkind/RI
Bangladesh. Rachel Elkind/RI
Makeshift shelters, constructed from bamboo and tarpaulin, cover every inch of the Kutupalong camp’s steep, sandy hillsides. The need to construct housing for hundreds of thousands of refugees in a matter of weeks stripped the camp of all vegetation, drastically increasing the likelihood of landslides during Bangladesh's annual monsoon season. To mitigate the risk, Relief International trains local first responders in emergency preparedness, helping these communities prepare for monsoon season each March.
Poor water and sanitation systems inside the camp pose one of the greatest threats to Rohingya refugees. In the rush to erect this functioning micro-city, some built latrines above wells and ponds used for washing and bathing, causing waste to trickle down into the camp’s water supply. Relief International’s rehabilitation of key water points, in conjunction with other efforts throughout the camp, is helping to prevent and contain disease outbreaks from spreading.
When disease outbreaks occur, community health workers are at the forefront of our response. Rohingya refugees who work for Relief International as volunteers go door-to-door inside the camp to diagnose and treat cases for homebound refugees. For more serious cases, these workers refer patients to one of Relief International’s five health clinics.
Diseases inside the camp often present in early stages or with a wide range of symptoms, making it difficult to pinpoint an exact diagnosis. To complicate matters, patients often contract rare diseases as a result of overcrowding, poor sanitation, violence, or other hardships of living in a refugee camp. Relief International staff routinely treat patients suffering from respiratory tract infections, sudden onset fevers, and gastrointestinal issues. We’ve also extended our clinics’ hours to 24/7 to ensure refugees can access health services during an emergency.
During humanitarian emergencies, women and girls are among the most vulnerable. Many of the Rohingya women in the camp suffered gender-based violence during their escape from Myanmar. Relief International runs programs designed to provide safe spaces for women and girls inside the camp where they can gather, learn new skills, and receive psychosocial support for the violence they have witnessed or experienced during their flight or since arriving in the camp.
More than half of all newly arrived Rohingya refugees are children who, without access to education, risk becoming a “lost generation.” Relief International operates 17 Child Friendly Spaces, which provide one of the only structured programs for children inside the camp. Here, Rohingya children have opportunities to learn and play, and to forget the realities of the camp — if only for an afternoon.

While most of the newly arrived refugees settled in Bangladesh’s Kutupalong refugee camp, some established themselves farther south in Teknaf, one of the poorest and most underserved districts in Cox’s Bazar. Here, refugees have even less access to basic services than those who live in the camp.

Bangladeshis initially welcomed the Rohingya by the tens of thousands into their homes and communities. However, as the crisis drags on, it is evident that the rapid influx of refugees into this poor area of Bangladesh adds a significant strain on communities’ already overstretched resources. We’ve expanded our health services in Teknaf to include members of the vulnerable host community, helping to reduce tensions between the host communities and the displaced.

As the crisis enters its third year, refugees inside the camp continue to rely on humanitarian aid to meet all of their most basic needs. We must continue to develop new programs to support the diverse needs of the most vulnerable Rohingya refugees that live in areas cut off from key services and the host communities that support them.