Reaching Rohingya Refugees in Camp's Remote Corners

More than 700,000 Rohingya people have fled Myanmar since violence erupted there in August 2017. Today, these families live in a sprawling settlement that covers more than 3,000 acres in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. 

Relief International was among the first organizations to begin delivering aid to these women, men and children as they streamed across the border at a rate of 30,000 per day. 

With five fully staffed primary health care clinics, 10 women, girl and child friendly spaces and 22 teams of door-to-door social workers, RI works to heal the physical and psychological traumas these families face. 

Every day we break new boundaries.

Relief International staff have staked out sites in the furthest reaches of the settlements. These sites are still covered by trees and often lie beyond a river or valley, accessible only by foot. Why build centers where there are no people?

Because soon there will be people. And they will be among the camp’s most vulnerable. New arrivals are pushed to the least desirable parts of the camp, the parts that lie far from services, markets and roads. They are still arriving at a rate of 1,000 per day.

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“We must build in these places,” says RI’s emergency response team leader Ricardo Vieitez. “These are the people with the greatest needs.”

Theirs is a story best told in pictures.

Children work hard in the camp and poverty makes them vulnerable to exploitation. RI’s protection team already has provided services such as psychosocial counseling and life skills training to more than 9,000 girls, boys and adolescents. RI staff also run a child-protection community center and provide case management to nearly 400 abused or neglected children. 

Every day, RI’s door-to-door social workers ply the camp’s narrow dirt alleys to identify women and children suffering domestic or gender-based violence. Teams have referred hundreds of clients to RI counselors and have delivered information on where to find counseling and treatment services to nearly 9,000 refugees.

Kids at Relief International’s six child-friendly spaces sing, play and draw."The children who are coming here, you can see they are enjoying their drawing and their work," says Kazi Abdullah Rizvan, a child protection assistant at the RI child-friendly center above. 

"When they come here, when I talk with them and they smile, it makes me happy." 

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Makeshift shelters cover every hillside in the settlement. The denuded landscape drastically increases the likelihood of landslides during the rainy season, which arrives in June. 

 More than 60 percent of water in the camp is unfit for drinking, according to the World Health Organization, partly because of contamination by overflowing latrines. Here, children play in a pond used for and washing and bathing, with a latrine on the hill above. Limited access to toilets or clean water heightens the risk of disease, which spreads quickly through the overcrowded settlement. 

A young woman burns twigs for a cooking fire. 

Raju Begum, 35, holds her four-year-old daughter Nursahara at one of RI’s women-friendly spaces. “When I come here I forget everything,” says Raju, who is haunted by the memory of a soldier viciously killing a baby in her village. “Here I can talk with other sisters.” Raju is training to become an RI case worker. 

The newest, poorest arrivals are forced to the camp’s most remote corners. Relief International lays the foundation for programs and services before they arrive.