No end in sight to one of the world’s largest refugee crises

The European Union and its humanitarian partners have provided aid to refugees in Bangladesh since the very beginning.

The Muslim Rohingya minority have faced discrimination and violence in Myanmar for decades, triggering waves of people fleeing into neighbouring Bangladesh. The latest — and by far the largest — refugee exodus began on 25 August 2017, when violence erupted in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, forcing more than 745,000 people to seek refuge in Cox’s Bazar district in the far southeast of Bangladesh.

Nearly 1 million refugees now reside here in temporary shelters, making it the world’s largest refugee settlement. To make matters worse, Bangladesh is also one of the globe’s most disaster-prone countries, exposed to a variety of natural hazards including cyclones, floods, and earthquakes. The Rohingya are entirely dependent on humanitarian assistance and the EU and its partners have provided aid to refugees in Cox’s Bazar since the onset of the crisis.

The sprawling camps around Cox’s Bazar make up the world’s largest refugee settlement. The camps, like much of Bangladesh, are prone to seasonal flooding, landslides, and cyclones. The EU and its humanitarian partners have established early warning systems, helped reinforce houses to cope with storms, as well as teaching disaster preparedness in local schools.

Healthcare is a vital service in the camps; in the images above, patients receive care in a clinic run the International Rescue Committee. The poor and overcrowded living conditions often result in acute watery diarrhoea. Malaria, measles and other serious diseases are also common. The EU and its partners treat tens of thousands of patients, health promotion activities are also crucial in order to prevent outbreaks of disease.

Clean water is scarce across the refugee settlements, especially during the dry season from November through May. The EU and its partners have installed boreholes and gravity distribution systems that supply thousands of people with clean water every day.

At a centre for malnourished children run by EU’s partner World Food Programme (WFP), children and their mothers learn how to prepare a fortified porridge. A key EU priority in Cox’s Bazar is to provide the refugees, and the Bangladeshi communities hosting them, with nutritious food.

Mothers are taught breastfeeding techniques at a centre run by aid group Action Against Hunger in one of the camps. The trauma of disaster and conflict can have a devastating impact on a mother’s mental and physical health, affecting their ability to breastfeed.

Children are fed daily at one of the Action Against Hunger’s centres. Many families depend on the hot meals provided by the aid group. The organisation also provides biscuits that the children take home to further supplement their diets.

Children make up over half of the refugee population in Cox’s Bazar. After years in the camps, many children want to go back to school, and parents are concerned that their out-of-school children are at risk of exploitation and abuse. The EU and its partners have ensured access to informal education for thousands of Rohingya children in centres across the camps, where they can learn, play and heal from past trauma.

Rice sacks are offloaded in one of the camp’s large WFP-run e-voucher shops, where refugees can collect food charged to a prepaid WFP card.

Families can choose from a wide variety of nutritious food, including fresh vegetables, eggs and fish, available at designated e-voucher shops in the camps. The EU is one of WFP’s key donors in Bangladesh, having provided more than €41 million since 2014.

© Peter Biro/EU/ECHO

One-fifth of Rohingya children under 5 are malnourished in the camps, with 12% suffering from severe stunting because of lack of food, according to Action Against Hunger. Chronic malnutrition can lead to stunting, which has lasting effects on brain development.

By Peter Biro, Regional Information Officer for Asia and the Pacific, European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO)

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