Health & Sanitation

Diseases from unsafe water and lack of basic sanitation kill more people every year than all forms of violence, including war. That’s wrong. We all have the right to clean water. Oxfam is providing life-saving clean water, and sanitation and hygiene education in some of the world’s poorest countries, as well as in areas struck by humanitarian crises.

COVID-19: Why we need your support now more than ever

We just launched an appeal to support Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar survive monsoon season – the day after the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in that region of Bangladesh.

As appeal letters dropped through the letterboxes of our loyal supporters, some 900,000 people living in the biggest refugee settlement in the world began to panic about how they could practice social distancing and life-saving hygiene practises in a makeshift home without adequate sanitation and health infrastructure.

This is the news we dreaded – and it’s why we made the decision to still launch our appeal at a time of unprecedented challenge at home and abroad as COVID-19 threatens us all. For people living in cramped, flimsy shelters in over-crowded camps, the impact of an outbreak doesn’t bear thinking about.

It’s our job to let our supporters know how they can help the world’s poorest and most vulnerable, those facing poverty and disaster beyond our imagination.

We usually tell these stories and how you can be part of them face-to-face, through our fundraising activities and our network of shops in communities across the country. To protect us all, we can’t do that right now and we’re are urgently appealing for your help. 

We need your generous support now more than ever.

In addition to helping Rohingya refugees prepare for monsoon season, we’ll be helping them and communities all over the world to stay safe and healthy as COVID-19 threatens the poorest and most vulnerable.

Please donate what you can today:

Bangladesh: A treacherous journey for Rohingya people

From clean water and sanitation to advocacy, Oxfam is assisting hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees from Myanmar who fled the brutal attacks of 2017.

It's has been almost three years since over 700,000 Rohingya from Myanmar became refugees. Targeted by the military with mass violence that the United Nations describes as ethnic cleansing, they left behind everything they owned. They carried with them a heavy burden: the memories of atrocities carried out against their loved ones, and of the harsh abuse that they themselves endured. The emotional wounds are still fresh; ask a refugee a question about the present day, and you will likely hear a haunting personal story of what happened in August 2017.

Rohingya refugee woman in Cox's Bazar
Khalida lives in a refugee camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. Like hundreds of thousands of others, she was driven from her country by Myanmar's military. Photo: Elizabeth Stevens/Oxfam

"We saw with our own eyes people tied up and thrown into police trucks," says a woman who lives in a refugee camp in Cox's Bazar. "Blood flowed from the trucks like water."

"They killed my brothers and raped my sisters and mother and killed them," says Abu Musa, another refugee. "We get up every morning and wonder how we can go on."

Yet, somehow the life of the community does go on. The camps bustle with activity, with roadside market vendors selling everything from vegetables to pots and pans to brightly coloured clothing. Trucks arrive with goods and make their way slowly along brick roads, crafted by hand to survive the monsoon rains. Children surround new visitors, eager to interact and play. Someone tells a joke, and someone laughs.

Protecting lives, rights and dignity

When refugees began their exodus in 2017, protecting lives was Oxfam's priority. The camps that formed to accommodate the refugees quickly became overcrowded, creating perfect conditions for the outreak and spread of deadly diseases. With your support, we helped prevent a public health emergency by constructing latrines, providing access to clean water and distributing hygiene materials, such as soap and sanitary pads. Over time, we constructed the largest sewage treatment plant in a refugee camp anywhere in the world.

"Before learning about hygiene from Oxfam, I didn't know how to use soap properly," says a young woman named Saitara. "I didn't know about washing hands before eating and cooking. Now, I'm cooking food safely."

"After Oxfam's work," says a mother of three named Hamida, "our children didn't get diarrhea so often.

Safety - particularly for vulnerable groups like women and girls - was also a key priority, so Oxfam installed solar-powered lights around the camp and provided families with solar torches and lanterns to help residents move around safely at night.

"We use the solar torches to get to the latrine at night or to find a lost child," says Saitara, "or to help people who are elderly or disabled."

To ensure people had access to food, clothing and other essentials, we distributed vouchers that families could use in local markets.

Thanks to your support, we're also helping to create safe spaces for women to gather and make their voices heard, and through women's groups and musical performances, we're working with local organisations and communities to raise awareness about wider issues, such as early marriage, gender-based violence and harmful traditional gender roles.

The influx of refugees has been hard on the host communities. Among other things, already-low wages have dropped, while the cost of living has risen. To help address local poverty and ease tensions between hosts and refugees, Oxfam has employed more than 1,800 Bangladeshis in construction projects, such as building roads, schools and water points.

Rohingya refugee woman signs her name for the first time
Saitara signs her name. She had never touched a pen before Oxfam showed her how to sign her name. "I used to feel small, but after learning to sign my name, I felt bigger," she says. Photo: Elizabeth Stevens/Oxfam

We also worked with partners to improve livelihoods of particularly vulnerable families in the host communities. For example, when pirates attacked the vessel of fisherman Nurul Hoque, they blinded him, and he was reduced to begging on the street. Oxfam partner Mukti stepped in, providing funds and business training that enabled his familiy to start up a roadside food stall.

"Now, we eat three times a day," says his wife, Mumtaz Begum, "and we have bought four goats."

In all, Oxfam and our partners have reached more than 360,000 people with aid.

Refugees experience fear and longing

But nothing we do will make the camps feel like home, and despite the violent past, the refugees' longing for their homeland is palpable.

They're deeply grateful to the government and host communities of Bangladesh for providing them with shelter and safety, but they don't want to live out their lives as refugees.

"We used to be farmers. We grew rice and chilies, and our sons fished. My husband had a snack stall," says Hamida. "We want that life back." Many others say the same, but always with a caveat.

"We can't leave until we have a promise. We need security and citizenship in our country," says Faruk, who has a young daughter. "Our people have been killed before, and we don't want to face that again."

Oxfam is committed to doing more than simply provide aid in the camps. With advocacy staff positioned in capital cities around the world, we're urging governments to put pressure on Myanmar to provide the Rohingya people with the rights and citizenship they've been denied for decades, and with a chance to return to their home country when the refugees themselves deem it safe.

In the meantime, the Rohingya people are doing their best to recover, and to hang onto their hopes and dreams.

"We're asking for our country back," says a woman named Azara. "And for a chance to lie there in peace."

Your help is urgently needed this monsoon season. Please send essential preparation kits to refugees like Azara, Saitara and Khalida today.

Rohingya refugees: Finding hope amongst the hopelessness

In 2018, I completed three weeks working for Oxfam's Rohingya crisis response team in Cox’s Bazar and can remember one moment, standing in the pouring rain in the confined camp.

Everywhere I looked, ramshackle shelters made of bamboo and tarpaulins stretched into the distance.

People old and young were trying to find shelter from the downpour, and large puddles were quickly forming across the narrow brick road, with water running down sandy hillside paths.

As I was trying to take photos of a deep tube well Oxfam was drilling to provide clean water, numerous Rohingya refugees offered to take me into their shelters to stay dry, or brought me umbrellas.

Such was the kindness of people who had endured unspeakable horrors that forced them from Myanmar into neighbouring Bangladesh.

Before monsoon season, the camps endured what they call the pre-monsoon rains, where every couple of days a ferocious storm will hit for an hour or so.

This rain was nothing like I’m used to.

The falling water had an almost physical quality, beating down on you, so heavy that you would struggle to see the other side of a road.

Trees were often blown over in the wind, and almost immediately, huge puddles formed everywhere, slowing cars and trucks on the sandy, brick roads and draining into refugees' flimsy shelters.

Almost one million people live in the Rohingya refugee mega camp. When I was there, what was at the forefront of aid workers' minds was how the full monsoon would impact such a huge population living in such desperate conditions.

Yet despite this, I was struck by the way in which Rohingya refugees could find hope in what appeared to be a hopeless situation.

Denied citizenship in their country, they felt they didn't belong anywhere and had nowhere to call home. They had no idea what their future would hold.

In the meantime, they were awaiting monsoon rains likely to bring floods, landslides and potentially deadly water-borne diseases. At the time, the United Nations (UN) estimated that up to 200,000 people were living in at-risk areas of the camps.

As much as 2.5 metres of rain could fall on the camps during the monsoon season.

But the refugees I met certainly weren't hopeless or despairing.

Parents were working hard to strengthen their shelters or volunteering for charities like Oxfam as community health trainers, or with the UN as camp labourers helping prepare the camps for the coming heavy rain.

This included a young woman I met called Ayesha*, who was 18 years old. She fled to Bangladesh with her mother and three siblings after their father was killed in the violence in Myanmar.

Ayesha (pictured left). Photo: Dylan Quinnell/Oxfam

It took them nearly 5 days to get to Bangladesh by boat and foot; others weren’t so lucky and drowned when their boats sank.

Life is tough in the camps without a father or husband - women can get missed or sidelined at aid distributions, and culturally, young women are not supposed to go out alone.

None of this had dampened Ayesha’s spirit. She had put up her hand to volunteer, and was running community health trainings with her neighbours and other women. 

She told me, "Now I work as an Oxfam volunteer, I teach people how to maintain good hygiene and I tell people what to do to have a good life. I feel good about it".

As for the children, they played football wherever they could find space, and ran through the camps in happy bunches and practised English phrases such as "goodbye, how are you, I am fine" with aid workers.

Oxfam is in Bangladesh, providing food and life-saving clean water to those who have fled Myanmar and the host communities that have opened their doors to them. But we desperately need your support as the deadly monsoon season approaches.

You can send monsoon preparation kits today: https://www.oxfamireland.org/monsoon

Dylan Quinnell was the Media Manager for Oxfam’s Rohingya Crisis Response for three weeks. He is currently the Senior Media Coordinator at Oxfam Australia.

*Name changed to protect identity.

Kutapalong Rohingya refugee camp: preparations for monsoon season

This World Water Day, we share what matters

Water is undeniably an essential part of life. For all of us, safe clean water is crucial for staying healthy. Without it, we wouldn’t be able to regularly wash our hands of any coronaviruses that may be lurking. When communities have access to it, they can instead focus on other things like educating their children, growing their small businesses, and building sustainable livelihoods. In other words, safe clean water is a vital building block for beating poverty.

This upcoming Sunday marks World Water Day, when the world comes together to celebrate the importance of freshwater. To mark this important date in the calendar, we wanted to share the latest update with you from the devastating crisis in Yemen, where millions of Yemenis face the triple threat of war, disease and hunger. The war in Yemen that began in 2015 has left over 22 million people in need of humanitarian assistance. Of these people, 17.6 million are in desperate need of food and 2.9 million people have been left homeless.

We’re on the ground working across the worst-affected areas in Yemen, trying to help communities survive this ongoing crisis.

In Al Radhah village, we’ve installed solar panels and 15,000 metres of water pipes to successfully build a solar pump system – a system which is now providing a clean safe water supply for more than 1,818 households in 15 neighbouring villages.

Oxfam worker oversees water project
Credit: Sami M. Jassar/Oxfam
Solar powered safe clean water system
Credit: Sami M. Jassar/Oxfam
Oxfam worker and local Yemen man discuss the water system
Credit: Sami M. Jassar/Oxfam
Children using the solar powered water system
Credit: Sami M. Jassar/Oxfam

We’ve provided clean water and sanitation to more than one million people, including in hard-to-reach areas of the country, by trucking in water, repairing water systems, delivering filters and jerry cans, as well as building latrines and organising cleaning campaigns.

Along with 21 other NGOs, we’ve signed an open letter to the United Nations Security Council calling on its members to take action to bring about an immediate ceasefire in Yemen, end the humanitarian crisis and support the UN Special Envoy's efforts towards an inclusive political solution to the conflict.

This World Water Day, let’s come together to fight for the people of Yemen. You can help us reach more families by donating what you can today. Thank you.

How to wash your hands, the right way

What was the last surface you touched? Did you touch your face afterwards?

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), studies suggest that coronaviruses (including preliminary information on the COVID-19 virus) may stay on surfaces for a few hours or up to several days.

The WHO is advising everyone, regardless of age, to regularly and thoroughly wash your hands for at least 20 seconds. This helps eliminate any viruses that may be on your hands.

Click to Play Now

How To Wash Your Hands | Oxfam Ireland

Oxfam has been providing safe clean water and helping prevent disease around the world since the 1960s. Check out more here.

Cyclone Idai: One year on, communities are still suffering

Cyclone Idai made landfall on 14th March 2019, destroying livelihoods and homes across southern Africa. Today, hundreds of thousands of people in Zimbabwe, Malawi and Mozambique are still suffering the consequences of one of the worst cyclones to hit Africa.

family taking refuge under temporary shelter
Maria, 31, with her six children with their only belongings sheltering from the rain by the side of the road. Photo: Elena Heatherwick/Oxfam

A new Oxfam briefing, After the Storm, reveals that thousands of people in Mozambique and Zimbabwe are still living in destroyed or damaged homes and makeshift shelters, with an estimated 8.7 million people in desperate need of food as a result of extreme weather events and localised conflict. Critical infrastructure including roads, water supplies, and schools remain in disrepair, making it even more difficult for people to access vital services or get back to work.

A toxic combination of factors – including an intensifying cycle of floods, drought and storms; deep rooted poverty and inequality; a patchy humanitarian response; and the lack of support for poor communities to adapt to changing climate or recover from disaster – have increased people’s vulnerability and made it harder for people to recover.

flooded shops and homes in Mozambique
Flooded shops and homes in Lamego district, Mozambique as of February 2020. Photo: Elena Heatherwick/Oxfam

Virginia Defunho, a farmer who lives in Josina Machel village in Mozambique with her husband and seven children, lost everything in the cyclone - their home, crops, chickens and most of their possessions. She replanted her fields in December, but her crops were damaged by another severe flood this January. Oxfam’s partner Kulima is providing Virginia with tools and seeds to plant again on a rented plot on higher ground.

“The hardest thing now is the lack of food. Sometimes I go to bed hungry. The child cries, wanting something to eat, and it makes me feel angry sometimes, because the child is crying because he wants food and there is nothing to give.

friends join together to adapt to climate change
Amelia (right) and Virginia (left) have been neighbours since 1996. They cannot farm where they live any more because of frequent flooding so they are renting plots on higher ground to grow crops using the seeds provided. Photo: Elena Heatherwick/Oxfam

“Idai has destroyed my mind. I have a child who has succeeded to grade ten, but I don't have the money to pay for him to enrol back at school. If life was normal, I would have some crops to sell and I would get some money and my child would be back at school.   

“We are worried about the future because we don't know if the weather is going to be like this or if it will change back to normal like it was before. We worry about another cyclone coming. If it comes a second time, what will our lives be? How is it going to be?”

Oxfam raised funds to assist people across Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe in the aftermath of the cyclones. With our partners, we provided emergency assistance such as food aid, blankets and hygiene kits; installed latrines and water pumps in temporary camps; and helped raise awareness of issues such as gender-based violence - which often spikes after a disaster. In the long term, Oxfam is working with communities to help them adapt in the face of a changing climate – for example by helping smallholder farmers diversify their crops and adapt their farming techniques.

Cyclone Idai is just one of many extreme weather events to have hit southern Africa in recent years. Despite the escalating climate crisis, poor communities are not getting the help they need to adapt, and world leaders have failed to ensure a dedicated global fund to help countries rebuild from the loss and damage caused by climate fuelled disasters.

Donate now to support Oxfam’s work in southern Africa and beyond.

Rohingya crisis: Support Fashion Relief and make a difference

Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh

There's more to Fashion Relief than bagging a bargain or spotting your favourite celeb - it can make a real difference to families bearing the brunt of war and climate change.

Shoppers at Fashion Relief events will be supporting the world's most vulnerable communities - they include thousands of Rohingya people forced to flee Myanmar when conflict broke out in 2017. Around 700,000 people fled to neighbouring Bangladesh, settling in Cox's Bazar. With 1 million people now calling it home, it is the world's largest refugee camp.

Lorraine Keane recently visited Bangladesh to see Oxfam's work on the ground for herself. So far, we've distributed vital aid including clean water and food to 360,000 people in Cox's Bazar.

Fashion Relief at Cox's Bazar | Oxfam Ireland

We’re helping people stay healthy by installing water points, toilets and showers, and distributing soap and other essentials. We’ve recruited more than 600 Rohingya volunteers to help us reach others with hygiene information, we’ve built the biggest-ever sewage plant in a refugee camp on site and our solar-powered water network delivers safe water to families.

Oxfam staff hears Rohingya refugee opinions on new latrines
The women’s social architecture latrine user group talks to Iffat (Oxfam Senior Innovation Officer in Public Health Promotion & Community Engagement) about their first experiences using the latrine and bathing facilities. Photo: Salahuddin Ahmed

We've also provided 25,000 refugee households with vouchers that can be exchanged at local markets for fresh vegetables and ingredients. We’ve hired over 1,800 Bangladeshi locals to work on construction projects including road repairs, schools and water sources and provided almost 400 people with grants to start or expand their small businesses.

new Oxfam food voucher system for refugees
An efficient new e-voucher system enables refugees to make their purchase by simply scanning a card pre-charged with credit. Photo: Maruf Hasan/Oxfam

To help women feel safer after dark, we’ve installed more than 350 solar-powered streetlights around the camp and provided 20,000 torches and portable solar lanterns. We’ve also worked with women refugees to design more secure toilets and supplied them with fabric and vouchers so they can make or order clothes they feel more comfortable wearing in public.

Oxfam bought light to parts of Cox's Bazar
Oxfam has brought light to parts of the Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh. Photo: Maruf Hasan/Oxfam

Sustainability in action

Fashion Relief is a key part of our work to increase sustainability across the fashion industry and support fair pay for garment workers. According to the UN, the textile industry generates more emissions than the aviation and shipping industries combined!

That's no surprise when 225,000 tonnes of clothes end up in landfill in Ireland each year. That's 225,000 tonnes of clothes not getting a second chance at life.

On top of that, cheap production and plummeting prices means the items we buy often end up in landfill before they should, while garment workers survive on low wages and more often than not experience poor working conditions [Source: Irish Tech News].

Join us on a journey to a more sustainable lifestyle, starting with the clothes you wear. We're proud to be a solution to "throwaway fashion" by reducing the amount of clothes and textiles that end up in landfill and giving pre-loved clothes a longer life. We also work with retailers, encouraging them to donate their end-of-line or excess stock to us instead of sending it to landfill. That's a more sustainable solution for people and planet!

How toilets fight poverty

Safe water, good hygiene, and improved sanitation save lives

Whether in an emergency, or for everyday use at home or at school, toilets are essential. Yet, more than 4.5 billion people don’t have a proper toilet. That’s according to the UN and the good people behind its World Toilet Day effort, launched in 2013 and celebrated every year on November 19, which raises awareness about the role toilets play in fighting poverty.

 

Living in a world without decent toilets (especially ones connected to a system that safely handles waste) puts people at risk of disease, pollutes the environment, and discourages girls from attending school.

That’s why Oxfam provides toilets, clean water, and encourages good hygiene practices in the wake of natural disasters and other emergencies, and works with communities to build decent latrines and proper sanitation systems for everyday use. Safe water, good hygiene, and improved sanitation can save as many as 842,000 lives per year, according to the UN. Toilets can actually save lives!

See for yourself the difference toilets make, every day and in emergencies.

Toilets and Clean Water Overlooked Essentials

Back to School: Help Open a Child’s Door

Children at Al Rusul school for girls in Mosul, Iraq. Photo: Tegid Cartwright/Oxfam

For a good bit of us here in Ireland, it’s back to school time, which means parents and children are back to stressing about making it out of the door in the mornings on-time. Five minutes late? That’s no bother to some children going back to school in Iraq right now as they also worry about clean and safe access to toilets. Did you know that more than 1/2 of schools in Iraq need rehabilitation and 2.5 million children need help to access education?

Returning Home

During the three-year reign of terror by ISIS, Iraq’s once thriving city of Mosul was torn apart by fighting. Homes, health centres and schools were bombed and shattered to pieces. For many of Mosul’s children and their loved ones, their happy memories and old lives have all gone as children have seen their parents, grandparents or siblings being killed. They’ve lived under the daily terror of violent occupation. Without schooling, only 5% of 8 to 9-year-olds can now read and solve math problems at an appropriate grade level.

When it was safe for Bibi, a student, to return to her old primary school in west Mosul, she found it was a shell. An empty shell. The windows had been blown out, the furniture was broken, and the classrooms empty, void of the children’s work that had once filled their walls. The school’s sanitation system had been destroyed. There was no running water and the toilet floors were covered in rubbish, mud and faeces. The stench was so bad it made the children feel sick.

“When ISIS came, I stayed here for awhile and then I was told to leave. It [the school] was destroyed, the furniture was broken. All our records were all over the floor. There was nothing left for us. Two years of the students’ lives are gone.”
- Muna Husein Kadu, Headteacher at the Al Rusul Primary School for girls
Iraq toilets Mosul - Back To School
The bathrooms in Al Rusul school for girls before Oxfam carried out rehabilitation work to install clean and sanitary toilets and sinks for the students to use. Photo: Tegid Cartwright/Oxfam

Back to School

In west Mosul, families are gradually returning home to rebuild their lives after the conflict with ISIS, and over the last few months children have started slowly going back to school to restart their education. Oxfam’s teams have helped to rehabilitate the water and sanitation systems in over 30 key schools, ensuring hundreds of children going back to school have a safe and sanitary environment in which to learn. This work is complemented by educational sessions on hygiene that teach children about the importance of keeping themselves and the environment clean through interactive games. These sessions also serve as a fun way for the children to engage with each other and rebuild friendships. 
In just three days – that’s right, just three days – Oxfam workers on the ground rebuilt the sanitation system at Bibi’s school, the Al Rusul Primary School for girls. This is the fast, effective, and life-changing difference we can bring to children in Iraq with the support of donors. Now more than half of the schools in Iraq need rehabilitation, along with hundreds of schools in war-torn countries like Syria. We must make sure they have a better future. In three days, we can help protect their future. Together, we can help Mosul’s children get an education, and avoid a lifetime of poverty. We can make sure that boys and girls are in school and not at risk of being worked to the bone – for as little as 10,000 dinars (less than nine dollars a day) – as child labourers. With so many obstacles already making it hard for Mosul’s children to get an education, sanitation should not be one of them.
“The kids are the ones with the hope. They want to carry on and progress”.
- Muna Husein Kadu, Headteacher at the Al Rusul Primary School for girls

How to fix toilets in three days | Oxfam Ireland

To make a difference in a child-in-need’s life today, consider sending a quick donation through the button below.

#BacktoSchool #Mosul #Iraq

The Rohingya crisis: a matter of life and death

On 25 August 2017, the Myanmar military began a brutal crackdown on Rohingya communities causing more than 700,000 people to flee to Bangladesh. Since then, refugees having been living in camps and Bangladesh communities with little hope for the future. Refugee and Bangladeshi communities are intertwined, and harmony between them is essential for the security and peace of mind. Elizabeth Hallinan, Oxfam’s Advocacy Manager in the Rohingya crisis explains why we must move beyond the emergency response in Bangladesh and give people better infrastructure and the chance to earn and learn.

For over a year, I have been working in the Rohingya camps in Cox’s Bazar where I have seen the refugee and host communities settle into a life together. One member of the Bangladeshi host community with a keen sense of history is Abu Jahed from the Teknaf area. His life story demonstrates the intertwined histories of Rakhine and Cox’s Bazar. 

Abu Jahed at his home in the Teknaf area. Photo credit: Mutasim Billah/Oxfam

Situated between the Bay of Bengal to the west and the Naf River to the east, Teknaf is a peninusula with paddy fields and river embankments from where you can see beyond to the high green hills of Myanmar. Two years ago, Bangladeshi villagers watched smoke rising from these hills and prepared themselves for the new arrivals. 

Safety in Bangladesh

Abu Jahed remembers those early days: “We could see the smoke of their burning houses from here.  They came, crossing the river – can you see how big that river is to cross? Many of them died doing so. Those that made it here had nothing – no food, no water, and barely dressed. I went to the main road to invite them to my house.”

This was not the first time refugees from Myanmar braved the Naf River to arrive here. The Government of Bangladesh currently hosts more than 912,000 refugees (https://data2.unhcr.org/en/documents/download/70585): about 710,000 of whom came in 2017, but about 200,000 have been here longer, since conflict in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Refugees have come to Bangladesh, searching for safety, about a dozen times since Myanmar became a country in 1948.

The fight over natural resources

Like many places in Teknaf, refugees landing in Abu Jahed’s village, arrived quite literally in the host community’s backyards. They put up shelters in paddy fields, chopped down precious jungle forest, crowded the water pumps.

“We, the local people, are dependent on three things – the forest, the land and the river.  These people have chopped down our forest, they have taken our land, and now even the army does not let us cross the river for fishing and trade. You can see why people say that the Rohingya took everything from us. In no time at all, we were quarrelling.”

Poverty and limited social services

Cox’s Bazar is the second poorest district in Bangladesh; the host community was struggling even before the latest arrivals.  There are about 335,000 Bangladeshis, and nearly three times that many refugees. The strain is undeniable. 

I asked Abu Jahed why he decided to take people in?

“Let me tell you something about me,” he says.  “In 1971, during the Bangladesh Liberation War, I myself was a refugee in Myanmar. I was 10 years old when we woke in the night to find our houses burning, and we made the awful journey to Myanmar to save our lives. People there took us in. We had nothing, but we were safe there.

“To this day, we are very thankful to them and now feel a responsibility to pay them back for this kindness.”

Repaying the kindness

Many host community members have expressed this kind of sentiment to me.  Some were themselves displaced in the 1970s, others felt a bond with fellow Muslims or said that helping the refugees just seemed like the right thing to do. While many local community members expressed empathy for the refugees, they also see that the sheer scale of the new population is a larger issue.

Abu Jahed put it like this: “Let me tell you a story… Some boys were playing by a river where some frogs were floating. The boys started throwing stones at the frogs, when a passing village elder asked the boys what they were doing. ‘We are playing,’ they answered. Listening to the boys’ reply, the frogs called out, ‘Throwing stones at us might be a game for you, but our lives are at risk.’ The Rohingya people and the people of Cox’s Bazar are like the frogs of the story. The world is playing with us. This situation is a game for them, but for the hosts and the refugees living in these conditions it is a matter of life and death.”

Refugees need legal status

Refugees in Bangladesh do not have legal status, so they cannot work, move freely around the country or access a formal education.

This presents a huge problem, explained Abu Jahed: “It is undeniable that education is a must for everyone. If the government can find a way to support their education without causing more problems for us, everyone could support that. Otherwise, what can we expect of the next generation growing up in conditions where their rights are violated, and they have no proper education? We can’t expect anything good.”

International support is urgent

The Government of Bangladesh is under a huge amount of pressure to provide for the refugee population, while also managing the legitimate frustrations of the local communities hosting them.

It is a delicate line to walk, and Bangladesh needs support from countries around the world to continue to develop Cox’s Bazar.  For 2019, the response has only 36% of the funding it needs to help these communities [https://fts.unocha.org/appeals/719/summary].

Myanmar also needs to take steps to address the root causes of the conflict. It must implement the Rakhine Advisory Commission Recommendations, including equal access to  to citizenship for Rohingya while putting an end to movement restrictions and other discriminatory policies [http://www.rakhinecommission.org/the-final-report/].

Listen to the people

Abu Jahed told me, “I would urge our government and other countries to put pressure on Myanmar, so that they stop this and listen to what Rohingya people want to say. They are asking for their citizenship, nothing else. If Myanmar does not listen then the world should come forward to help Bangladesh.

“Remember the story I shared? It might be a game for them, but we are risking our lives.”

Oxfam has been working with Rohingya refugees since the beginning of the crisis. We have supported more than 266,000 people, providing them with clean drinking water, latrines, sanitation and hygiene, fresh food vouchers, lighting, and protection programs. Oxfam also works with host communities providing protection and livelihood opportunities. We advocate at the highest levels for the rights of refugees in Bangladesh and communities impacted by conflict in Myanmar. Oxfam will continue to support refugees, working with national and international partners, to ensure that everyone’s rights are respected and that they have access to basic services while working towards durable solutions to this crisis.  

 

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