Darkness and despair in Rohingya camps

ShelterBox teams in Bangladesh find darkness and despair in overflowing Rohingya camps

September 29, 2017

Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh is usually a slice of paradise – 120 kilometres of golden sands, the world’s longest beach, an unspoiled haven for nature. But now it has become the imperfect sanctuary for over 400,000 people displaced from Myanmar. ShelterBox is there to try to help.

‘As more people arrive, the density of the camp increases and access to services such as water points and washrooms can pose a threat to personal security.’ These are the first impressions of a Response Team from international disaster relief agency ShelterBox.

ShelterBox are specialists in providing emergency shelter and lifesaving aid to families who have lost everything in natural disasters or conflicts. Their teams arrived some weeks ago in Bangladesh to respond to flood victims caught in the SE Asian deluge, but are now also having to plan a response to a human flood from across the border.

Muhammed Khaled, a Ronhingya teacher who arrived at Kutupalong camp two weeks ago, told ShelterBox’s Liz Odell and Jimmy Griffith about the urgent needs of the community.

The camp is so dark at night, street lighting as well as household level lighting is really needed. Women are not drinking enough water during the day as they are afraid to have to use the bathroom during the night. They are afraid of being assaulted in the dark.

Among its aid items ShelterBox has portable solar lighting, which has helped families in refugee camps worldwide. As well as mosquito nets to guard against disease. Tools and tarps will help with the overwhelming need for shelter in the frequent rains. ShelterBox is also considering bringing in blankets and cooking utensils.

But the numbers needing assistance are daunting, and growing. ShelterBox will have to identify an in-country consignee to satisfy customs controls, find suitable warehousing for aid, examine transport options, seek potential aid partners, and assess safety and security issues in what is fast becoming a volatile operating environment.

Operations Coordinator Ayeasia Macintyre was struck by the compassion of the Bangladeshi people in their initial response to the Rohingya influx.

What’s clear so far is the extent of the first response support from the Bangladeshi people. Volunteers have been here distributing water, assisting people from boats as they arrive, and helping people with access to hospitals. What’s vital now is that we have a coordinated solution to the overwhelming needs.

-Ayeasia Macintyre

In the past 48 hours about 2,000 Rohingya have arrived in Bangladesh by boat, and there have been drownings. One boat capsized off the coast of Cox’s Bazar yesterday killing 15 women and children, police official Chailaw Marma reported.

The Rohingya have been described as among the world’s most persecuted people. One million of them live in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, most in the territory of Rakhine. But although they claim to be indigenous to this region, Myanmar’s Buddhist majority views them as stateless illegal immigrants.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has intervened, branding this ‘the world’s fastest-developing refugee emergency’ and a‘humanitarian nightmare’.

ShelterBox Chief Executive Chris Warham says, ‘This is an unfolding crisis, and whatever the cause, the international community must come together to ensure these families have shelter and decent living conditions, and that Bangladesh is properly assisted. I’m sure ShelterBox’s generous supporters will step up as they always do to help the oppressed, frightened and homeless.’

ShelterBox teams know there is also a looming deadline in this flood-prone area of Bangladesh – the monsoon season begins in only six months. By then all shelter will have to be constructed to withstand constant heavy rains.

Camps in Rohingya, Bangladesh

Camps in Rohingya, Bangladesh