Christian Friis Bach in Cox’s Bazar: “we must do more to give the Rohingya refugees a life in dignity”A year has gone since hundreds of thousands of Rohingyas were forced to leave their homes after violence broke out in Myanmar. They sought refuge in neighboring Bangladesh leading to the establishment of the largest refugee camp in the world. Visiting the camp this week, Secretary General Christian Friis Bach is impressed with the resistance of the Rohingya refugees despite extreme suffering and losses.
More than 700.000 refugees have arrived in Bangladesh throughout the past year making it the fastest growing refugee crisis last year. While it seemed impossible, the government of Bangladesh, local actors and international organizations managed to setup a camp, where the refugees could get a roof over their heads and find protection. The extraordinary extent of the crisis and the horrific accounts of human rights abuses told by the refugees upon their arrival gained major international attention and condemnation. However, now – one year later – many problems in Cox’s Bazar are far from resolved and funds far from sufficient.
“The situation for the Rohingya refugees is unsustainable – it is impossible to ensure safe return to Myanmar and it is evident for everybody that most of the refugees will be here for many years. Therefore, it is important to stop thinking in short term solutions and instead in sustainable solutions,” says Secretary General of the Danish Refugee Council, Christian Friis Bach, upon his visit to the extremely congested mega-camp.
Christian Friis Bach points out that basic humanitarian standards are still not met, that Rohingya refugee children do not attend proper schools, that health services and supplies of water and firewood are inadequate and that there are very few opportunities for the young and very few jobs or livelihood opportunities for the refugees. As only one third of the UN’s aid appeal to ensure help and protection of the Rohingya refugees and support to the host communities has been funded, he worries a scenario that can become much worse.
“The funding gap for even basic services is severe and the consequences could be disastrous – not least for the camp’s most vulnerable inhabitants including hundreds of thousands of children,” he says.
At the onset of the surge in violence last year, Christian Friis Bach was in Myanmar in Sittwe, Rakhine State speaking with internally displaced Rohingyas from 2012. Seeing the difficulties organizations face when trying to provide assistance and protection to the Rohingya minority inside Myanmar, he is encouraged to see how Bangladesh has provided hospitality and shown generosity.
27-year-old Mohammaed, a Rohingya refugee who works for DRC as an incentive worker enabling him to provide for his family and help his community told Christian Friis Bach: “A year ago I was sitting here in the mud with nothing, now I have a sense of dignity and hopes of a better future”.
He is one of 2500 incentive workers from the Rohingya community who help DRC’s 250 staff members provide shelter and protection in the mega-camp and build infrastructure that can resist heavy rainfall and strong winds.
Although the camp is dangerously overcrowded and established in an area that is often badly affected during the bi-annual monsoon season and the cyclone season, many of the refugees express relief of having found safety for themselves and their loved ones.
“In Myanmar I was always worried for the safety of my four children - bringing them to safety here in Bangladesh is my greatest achievement,” a 25-year-old father, Anas told the Danish Refugee Council: “But now I worry that our shelter won’t hold against the heavy winds and I worry my children won’t have access to school and an education.”
While stressing the desperation of the situation, the Secretary General says he is overwhelmed by the courage of the people he spoke with in the camp, their ability to try to establish a dignified everyday life and their unfaltering commitment to a better future.
“The traumas these people have experienced are unimaginable, but they struggle every day to create a future for themselves and their families despite all odds. The international community must step up to ensure the minimum funding is provided. We must do much more to give the Rohingya refugees a life in dignity,” Christian Friis Bach says.
DRC in Bangladesh
The Danish Refugee Council has worked in the mega-camp outside Cox’s Bazar since the start of the year providing site management support in six sub-camps, in collaboration with the Government of Bangladesh. The support includes ensuring people have access to materials for building shelters, that they get the vouchers they need for food, firewood and other necessities, and that people living in the most vulnerable areas are moved to safer land.
Teams of dedicated incentive workers from the Rohingya community take part in a large cash-for-work programme with the aim of giving the refugees a sense of dignity and control over their own lives.
DRC staff and incentive workers have distributed over 23,100 shelter kits and constructed more than 8.3 km of drainage projects, 7.6 km² of soil retention and slope stabilization projects, 8.9 km of stairways and pathways, as well as the construction of 10 bridges.