‘We are always scared of diseases and fire’: Rohingya refugees facing new challenges in Bangladesh

Life in the congested camps that are home to over 880,000 Rohingya refugees was already tough, but the COVID-19 pandemic has brought new hardships – limiting movements, closing learning centres and reducing on-site assistance provided by aid organizations.

Then came a massive fire in March that reduced nearly 10,000 shelters to ashes and killed 11 refugees. The fire was followed by a particularly wet monsoon season that brought more than 700mm of rain in just one week between 27 July and 3 August, inundating more than 400 local villages, washing away shelters and triggering flooding and landslides that killed some 20 people, 10 of which were refugees. Some 24,000 refugees were forced to abandon their homes and belongings.

“Since we live in a congested situation, we are always scared of diseases and fire breaking out …and of our houses getting flooded,” said Asmida, 33, one of more than 7,000 refugee volunteers trained by the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, and partners to respond to emergencies such as fires and flooding.

During the monsoon season, she has helped pregnant women, children and elderly people from her block reach a safe place. She and the other volunteers have also worked tirelessly to help organize and coordinate the work of clearing away mud and repairing shelters, roads and bridges.

Rohingya refugee volunteers like Asmida, together with Bangladeshi workers from the surrounding communities in Cox’s Bazar District, form the backbone of delivery for humanitarian services in the camps, particularly over the past 18 months when COVID restrictions have reduced the presence of aid workers. They know the whereabouts of the most vulnerable people in their communities likely to need help in an emergency and keep an eye on the most flood-prone areas in the camps when the monsoon rains are particularly heavy.

Mohammad Aiyaz, another volunteer, was monitoring one such area last month when he heard children screaming.

“We saw that a boy was drowning in the canal,” he recalled. “I went close to him and tossed a throw bag to him. He caught it and we pulled him safely to the bank and handed him over to his parents.”

Read more at Flooding, fires and COVID bring fresh challenges for Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh

Source: UN Refugee Agency, Article by Iffath Yeasmine in Cox’s Bazar.

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