Rohingya Crisis: preparations underway ahead of monsoon season
26 March 2018
What has happened?
More than 680,000 people are now estimated to have fled to Bangladesh, escaping violence in Rakhine State in neighbouring Myanmar.
Most of the refugees are living in makeshift refugee camps in Cox's Bazar.
Needs are so great that the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC), of which CAFOD is a member, launched an emergency appeal for the refugees.
What impact will the upcoming rainy season have?
The monsoon rains typically begin in April and peak in July. The mainly Rohingya refugees are living in makeshift camps, clinging to the steep tree-less hills around Cox’s Bazar in southern Bangladesh. Flooding increases the risk of disease outbreaks, with toilets, washrooms and wells at risk.
The risk of landslides has been exacerbated by refugee families needing firewood to cook. Trees were cut down to make way for the refugees, and roots have been dug up for firewood, making the slopes even weaker and prone to collapse.
CAFOD and its local partner, Caritas Bangladesh, are working around the clock, ramping up efforts to protect vulnerable families. Working with around 3,500 local aid workers across the country, Caritas Bangladesh are experienced and well-placed to respond to this emergency, and possible heavy rains or a cyclone.
Francis Atul Sarker, Director of Caritas Bangladesh, said:
“As far as the horizon you can see settlements on hilltops and hillsides, people are in danger if heavier than usual rains lead to massive floods and landslides. We are already planning ahead using technology to map where flood waters might run; having in place a rescue plan, and doing what we can to reinforce people’s temporary shelters.”
“Many Rohingya are not from cyclone affected areas and therefore have no experience of this type of weather event and how to cope," said Zoë Corden, CAFOD’s Emergency Response Officer, who has been in Cox’s Bazar supporting the emergency response. "With such large numbers of people, it is not feasible to evacuate them elsewhere or build cyclone shelters”.
We are working on community preparedness – informing refugees about the potential hazards of storms, monsoons, and landslides.
“Drainage is also a massive problem” said Zoë Corden. “In many cases it was either not put in place, or only set up for the short term. Caritas Bangladesh is helping refugees to plan site improvements, including digging drainage, placing sandbags, and building foot bridges”.
How is CAFOD responding to the Rohingya refugee crisis?
Our local Church partner, Caritas Bangladesh, is responding to the refugee crisis by providing emergency aid to those in need.
Local aid workers from Caritas Bangladesh - supported by many volunteers - have been carrying out emergency aid distributions for vulnerable families in Kutupalong and Moinargona Camp, and in Teknaf Upazila. With donations from CAFOD supporters, they have already provided more than 48,000 people with lentils, cooking oil, sugar and salt - 12,000 of whom also received kitchen supplies - and a further 6,750 people have received winter kits; blankets, warm clothing and sleeping mats. Over the coming months we will reach thousands more with your support.
What are the needs of the refugees in Bangladesh?
Those that have made it into Bangladesh are living in extremely poor conditions. Food, clean water and sanitation, and medical and health services are urgently needed.
“The suffering we have witnessed in the faces of men, women and children who have fled to Bangladesh must end. We now need your help, so that we can dramatically scale up our response and urgently reach more people" said CAFOD's Director Chris Bain.
Who are the Rohingya people?
The Rohingya are a predominately Muslim ethnic group that have lived for centuries in Myanmar’s Rakhine State. They make up roughly 2 per cent of the population.
What is the Catholic Church saying about the Rohingya Crisis?
The Catholic Church in Myanmar and Bangladesh, are urging all parties to this crisis to come together to seek a peaceful solution. They are also urging the international community to do all that they can in getting humanitarian aid to where it is needed most.
During his visit to Bangladesh at the end of November 2017, Pope Francis urged the international community take “decisive measures” to resolve the causes of the mass exodus of Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar.
In a speech before Bangladesh’s President Abdul Hamid, government officials and ambassadors from around the world, Pope Francis praised Bangladesh’s sacrifice and generosity in welcoming in so many refugees “before the eyes of the whole world.”
Pope Francis also met with Rohingya refugees who were accompanied by our partner, Caritas Bangladesh.
What about the repatriation agreement between Bangladesh and Myanmar?
The safety of the refugees - the majority of whom are Rohingya - should be the priority. Repatriation should therefore only take place when there are firm guarantees for the safety, rights and livelihoods of those who return.
Currently there are still people fleeing Myanmar and arriving in Bangladesh, and no refugee who is still in fear of their life should be required to return. Despite very difficult and cramped conditions in the camps in Bangladesh, many Rohingya refugees would still prefer to stay than risk their lives. Any repatriation must therefore be voluntary.
The issue of safety must be addressed, as well as guarantees that families would be supported to rebuild their homes and lives. This requires further agreement on the refugees’ status in Myanmar, and assurances that there are clear mechanisms in place to help ensure safe returns and protection on their return.
The humanitarian needs in the Bangladesh camps continue to be great, and will continue to be so even if this repatriation agreement is implemented. A plan agreed between Bangladesh and Myanmar in January 2018 only caters for the repatriation of around 156,000 Rohingya in two years - far short of the 680,000 who have taken refuge in Bangladesh since 25 August 2017.
On 23 January it was announced that the start of repatriation had been postponed.
What can I do to help?
Please donate to CAFOD's Rohingya Crisis Appeal:
- Or by Phone: +44 (0)8085 858 885