Rohingya Refugee Crisis

  • More than 600,000 Rohingya people have arrived in Bangladesh, fleeing unimaginable atrocities. Exhausted and terrified, many believed they wouldn’t survive the journey. Oxfam is there, providing food and life-saving clean water to those fleeing Myanmar and the host communities that have opened their doors to them. But we desperately need your support as more and more traumatised men, women and children arrive in Bangladesh every day.

As monsoon season looms, Oxfam staff in Cox’s Bazar must prepare for the worst

Monsoon season in Kutupalong-Balukhali refugee camp, Cox’s Bazar. Rohingya women make their way home in the monsoon rains. Photo: Maruf Hasan/Oxfam

Last year’s monsoon season in Bangladesh resulted in catastrophic floods which left one quarter of the country underwater. Almost 1.3 million homes were damaged, hundreds of thousands of people were displaced and hundreds more died.

In the Rohingya camps of Cox’s Bazar, which are home to nearly one million people, more than 100,000 people were affected by the floods. Dozens were injured and 14 people died.

Damage following heavy rains at Rohingya refugee camp in Cox's Bazar. Photo: Mutasim Billah/Oxfam

Heavy monsoon rains can cause landslides and floods, resulting in latrines overflowing with filthy water. As this dirty water flows through the camps, it contaminates everything in its path – including sources of clean water. The result? The spread of deadly diseases such as cholera and typhoid.

The threat of this year’s monsoon season combined with Covid-19 means that Oxfam staff have to be more prepared than ever. But given the crisis upon crisis that has befallen families living in Cox’s Bazar over the past year alone, they will have to plan for the unexpected.

Destruction in the Rohingya refugee camps following a devastating fire in March, which left thousands displaced and hundreds injured. It also destroyed homes and critical infrastructure. Photo: Mutasim Billah/Oxfam

Crisis upon crisis

After all, less than three months ago, a huge fire engulfed four of the refugee camps, separating children from their parents. The fire ripped through the camps at an unimaginable rate, turning 48,300 people’s homes to molten ash and soot.

Food, toilets and water stations were destroyed in the blaze – the same water stations that could help families protect themselves from Covid-19.

“At my age I hardly can go down to collect water. This is Allah’s blessing that Oxfam is giving us water. Now we have drinking water. Life is tough in the camp and now this virus is causing fear among all of us”. Photo: Fabeha Monir/Oxfam

Oxfam's response on the ground

As this summer’s monsoon season looms, our staff will be ready to provide hygiene kits to keep disease at bay. Each kit contains soap, a bucket with a secure lid to keep water clean, detergent, jugs for washing when there are no taps, and sanitary products for girls and women. These simple items are a matter of life and death for families in Cox’s Bazar.  

Our staff will also be preparing to build new water stations and toilets to keep countless children and their families safe from infection.

Families living in Cox’s Bazar have already survived three monsoons. With your support, we can and we will protect them from the elements once more.

On the hunt for a designer bargain? Fashion Relief TV with Oxfam Ireland is back!

Tuesday 6 April 2021

Easter might be over, but that doesn’t mean the hunt for goodies has to be. Lorraine Keane is back with Fashion Relief TV, her sustainable fashion fundraiser with Oxfam Ireland, this Friday 9 April – and you’re guaranteed to find some fabulous bargains!

Earlier this year, Lorraine teamed up with broadcaster and fashion designer Brendan Courtney for a nationwide donation drive. Now, thanks to the generosity of some of Ireland’s most fashionable women, and boutiques from Dublin to Dingle, the Fashion Relief team is back with rails of pre-loved, brand-new and designer pieces.

The show, which airs on on Friday from 7pm, will showcase designer labels like Preen, Celine, Ganni and Alexander McQueen, and much-loved Irish labels including Aideen Bodkin, Louise Kennedy and Fee G.

Here are just some of the fabulous items up for grabs on Fashion Relief TV this week:

FRNCH Coat: FRNCH mid-length coat is designed in a gorgeous orange and white wool mix adding a smart tailored look to your spring look. Original RRP: €165 | Fashion Relief Price (FRP): €55
Louise Kennedy: Fabulous cobalt crepe dress with embellished detail. RRP Original €995 | FRP: €145
Vanessa Seward: This label is renowned for sleek, tailored pieces and this button-down denim dress is no exception. Original RRP: €495 | FRP: €165
Ganni Newman: Floral print gathered maxi dress by cool Danish brand Ganni. Donated by Lorraine Keane. Original RRP €295 | FRP: €110

But that’s not all. Other items on the show include a Preen by Thornton Bregazzi dress which normally retails for €1,119 but has a FRP price of just €295! The show will also feature a number of Lulu Guinness bags, donated by Laura Whitmore, and bags from Alexander McQueen, Thomas Wylde and Jimmy Choo, donated by Caroline and Storm Downey.

“Thanks to the generosity of donors we have created our very own little Fashion Relief circular economy – as long as people continue to donate fabulous items, we will continue to have fabulous bargains up for grabs,” said Lorraine.

“When Covid hit, Fashion Relief pivoted to an always-on online platform with the tech knowhow of our incredible partners, Axonista, so we could continue to offer our supporters amazing bargains with the added bonus of shopping more sustainably while also supporting Oxfam’s global work to beat poverty."

Fashion Relief is part of Oxfam’s solution to ‘throwaway fashion’, encouraging people to donate pre-loved items and reduce the amount of clothes that end up in landfill as well as shopping second-hand to give pre-loved clothes a longer life. So, by bagging a bargain from Fashion Relief you’ll be shopping more sustainably and doing your bit for people and planet.

“I’ve seen first-hand how the profits raised by Fashion Relief help some of the poorest and most at risk people through Oxfam’s work. Even though things may have slowed down or come to a stop here, humanitarian crises are continuing, and in some cases worsening across the world,” Lorraine continued.

Just three weeks ago, a massive fire swept through the refugee camps of Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh. The fires left 10,000 families displaced and in urgent need of basics like food and water. Hundreds more were injured. This was yet another devastating blow to the Rohingya people who fled shocking violence and persecution in Myanmar. Oxfam continues to be able to support and respond to events like this because of the generous support of people across Ireland.

To celebrate the return of Fashion Relief TV, Lorraine also has an incredible giveaway lined up for one lucky winner. Check out her Instagram page @LorraineKeane for details on how to win a Loulerie necklace. She explained: “All people have to do to enter is RSVP for Fashion Relief TV via, take a screen shot and post it to Instagram with the hashtag #FashionReliefTV to be in with a chance to win. People have until Friday at 6pm to enter.”

Three years on: Fighting COVID-19 in Cox's Bazar - the worlds largest refugee camp

Almost a million Rohingya Refugees live in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh - sprawling camps built across a hilly landscape.

Photos by Fabeha Monir / Oxfam. 19 May 2020

August 25th, 2020 marks three years since the start of a brutal military crackdown in Myanmar, which resulted in more than 700,000 Rohingya people fleeing to Bangladesh in search of safety.

Stormy skies over Rohingya refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar.

Over half the refugee population are children.

12 years old Rofika* is carrying drinking water from the water distribution point and heading towards her tent. Rohingya refugee camp, Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh

Refugees live in close quarters, using communal toilets and water facilities - sometimes the most basic items, such as soap, are lacking.

Nur Jahan* inside her house in Rohingya refugee camp, Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh

"I have lived in this refugee camp for almost three years. There are many challenges we are facing including hot weather. It’s tough to live inside these tents. The water crisis is still here."

Shelters are made from bamboo and tarpaulin and are vulnerable to seasonal monsoons and cyclones.

Cox’s Bazar – Just days after the first cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in the Rohingya settlements of Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh Refugees and host community members faced the threat of Cyclone Amphan.

During the monsoon refugees describe a ‘crisis for dry space’, with wet mud encroaching into shelters leaving no dry areas to sleep.

Oxfam staff member Ali (26) works to prepare one of the Rohingya refugee camps in Cox's Bazar before cyclone Amphan.

Conditions in the camps make refugees vulnerable to Covid-19.

Afiya Khatun* lives in a tent with nine family members. She is worried about the spread of coronavirus. Rohingya refugee camp, Cox's bazar, Bangladesh.

The camps are severely overcrowded with up to 10 people sharing one room and 250 people sharing one tap.

Every day Ameena* (8) spends hours with other neighbors of the Rohingya camp in the queue for collecting drinking water. Rohingya refugee camp Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh.

“My family live up in the hill. We do not have any water supply there. Everyday I have to queue hours for collecting drinking water. I have heard about the virus. We have to wash our hands and face after reaching to our tent. But none of us could wash our hands regularly because we have limited water for drinking, if we waste water by washing hands, I have to spend entire day queuing for water.”

Communal water taps make social distancing virtually impossible.

70 year-old Abu Salem* outside his tent, Rohingya refugee camp, Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh

“How can we stay at our tent. It’s very humid. I am living with eleven members of my family. We are asked to stay at home. I am very afraid of this virus. Everyone is wearing mask. I am wearing a mask too. But if I get infected by the disease all my family members will be infected. This is what I fear most”

When the virus first began spreading in the camps, rpeople were afraid as they had limited information.

Hafeza* with her child inside their tent where eight members of her family is living in one tent during COVID-19 outbreak in the camp. Rohingya refugee camp Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh.

“We are suffering a lot for humidity, and for water…We are queuing one hour for water. We have heard from others that our people are infected by corona virus. This is why we are now more afraid. Because of the disease people have to stay away from each other. So, I feel fear. It can spread from one another and people get infected easily. This is causing us fear”

Laila and Abu Begum* inside their tent during the COVID-19 outbreak lockdown in Rohingya refugee Camp, Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh.

“We are very afraid because every day we are hearing someone is getting infected by the virus. My husband and I are staying at home. We do not know what is waiting for us.”

Oxfam and our partners are adapting our work to ensure that people get what they need in these challenging times.

Oxfam volunteer Zahid Hossain (20) preparing to go into the field to work with safety measures during the COVID-19 outbreak in the camp. Cox's Bazar, Rohingya refugee camp. Bangladesh
Oxfam staff member Iffat Tahmid Fatema is providing service in the camp during the COVID-19 outbreak. Cox's BazarRohingya Refugee Camp, Bangladesh

We’re helping people stay healthy by sharing information about the virus.

Oxfam staff member Iffat is speaking to Bibi Jan about hygiene maintentance during COVID-19 outbreak.

“I have learned what should we do to save ourselves from the virus. I will share this information in my area. We have to maintain distance and need to stay at home now. We need to wash our hands every time we return from outside."

Oxfam staff member Rokeya is speaking to Imam Abdul Hossain about hygiene maintentance and importance of distance while praying during COVID-19 outbreak. Cox's Bazar Rohingya refugee camp, Bangladesh.

We’re providing soap and hygiene kits.

Hafeza* is cleaing her hands by sitting at the doorstep of her tent during COVID-19 outbreak in the camp. Rohingya refugee camp Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh

We’re helping refugees keep social distance.

Oxfam responding to the COVID-19 outbreak in the camp - markings on the ground are designed to help communities maintain social distancing.

Oxfam and our partners provide clean water.

Noor Haque repairing a mobile phone inside the local market in the Rohingya refugee camp, Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh.

“Everyone is afraid of the virus. But we do not have enough water in the camp… Oxfam is distributing water inside the camp. We can only have drinking water in our home. How can we manage water to wash our hands”

We are working to maintain water and sanitation facilities.

Oxfam staff are cleaning drains and clearing logged water during Cyclone Amphan. Cox's Bazar Rohingya refugee camp, Bangladesh.

We help refugees prepare for storms.

Oxfam staff, Md. Yusuf and Abu Nayeem secure a water supply tank inside the Rohingya refugee camp in Cox's Bazar to protect it from the impact of Cyclone Amphan.

We are adapting to COVID-19 with new innovations, like contactless handwashing stations which are activated with a foot peddle to avoid transmission of the virus from touching the soap and taps.

Nur* is using the recently installed Contactless Handwashing Device in the Rohingya camp.

The handwashing stations are activated with a foot peddle to avoid transmission of the virus from touching the soap and taps.

Toyoba Khatun*, MD. Hossain*, Abdul Malek* using the newly installed soap dispensers for washing hands and keeping distance.
Portrait of Abdul Malek* (80) inside his tent. Abdul Malek is using mask and washing hands regularly. Now he is using the new installed contactless hand washing device by Oxfam.

“I have never seen something like this before. Everyone from our blocks are using this new machine provided by Oxfam. We maintain distance by staying inside the circles made by them. They informed us that we should always maintain distance from each other, wear mask whenever we go out from the tent. I am afraid about the new disease. Already I heard the news of death. We cannot do much, we can only take precaution and stay safe."

Nur Jahan* inside her house wearing a mask to protect herself from COVID-19 as she has to go outside in the yard for her child. Rohingya refugee camp, Cox's Bazar, Banglaesh

"I know about the Coronavirus. I heard that we have to clean hands often with soap. Then we have to dry our hands. We have to do it to prevent the disease. We are not afraid. We know how to wash hands, how to be safe. We heard from volunteers, they told us."

Since 2018, close to a million Rohingya people, more than half of them children, have fled fled prosecution and violence in Myanmar and are now living as refugees in camps in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh They are living in extremely dire conditions amid increasing threats of floods and destruction to the camps on top of a potentially devastating COVID-19 health crisis as cases continue to be confirmed in the camps.

Photographing the pandemic – Fabeha Monir in Bangladesh

Nur Jahan* photographed by Fabeha Monir inside her house. Nur* wears a mask to protect herself from COVID-19. Photo: Fabeha Monir/Oxfam

Fabeha Monir is a Dhaka-based visual journalist and member of Women Photograph. Her work explores themes of social development, migration, gender-based violence and forced exile in marginalised communities. Fabeha told us about her experience documenting the impact of COVID-19 on Rohingya people living in Cox’s Bazar – home to the world’s largest refugee camp.

“When I was working with Oxfam to report on the impact of COVID-19, Cyclone Amphan hit. It created fear. In most of the Rohingya refugee camps, there are no cyclone shelters.

“I have covered major disasters, but nothing like this before. The fear and grief people hold is contagious. COVID-19 is everyone’s fight.

“Upwards of 60,000 to 90,000 people are crammed into each square kilometre of the camp, with families of 12 sharing small, flimsy shelters. Everyone is breathing the same air inside that shelter, coughing and sneezing. The 34 camps have a population density more than 40 times above the average in Bangladesh.

When I interviewed and photographed Nur, it was just as the cyclone was starting to hit.

“She walked with her baby in her arms on a narrow path between the temporary homes and went to wash her hands with the contactless handwashing device that Oxfam had installed. Hunger, a lack of water and COVID-19 has made people’s lives miserable, but Nur still has strength. Nur and her daughter left an ever-lasting impression on me.

Cyclone Amphan approaching the Rohingya refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar in May this year. Photo: Fabeha Monir/Oxfam

“Super-cyclone Amphan left a trail of devastation throughout north-east India and the Bangladesh coast, with over 80 deaths reported. Thousands of homes and crops were destroyed, compounding the suffering for many communities already hit by COVID-19 and the impact of lockdown.

“In the camps, Oxfam, partner staff and Rohingya volunteers were on the ground making preparations before the cyclone hit, which was encouraging to see and document. I met 24-year-old Abul Alam, who was spraying disinfectant in the drains and alleys, and Md. Yusuf and Abu Nayeem, who were securing the water tanks with ropes. Their commitment to serve the community impressed me a lot.

Oxfam staff member Abul Alam (24) in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. Photo: Fabeha Monir/Oxfam

Water is essential, especially during the pandemic.

“Shortages of water can cause disputes. Under these circumstances, it’s incredible to see how Oxfam is supporting the Rohingya community with their contactless handwashing devices and providing drinking water for the majority of the camp.

“I am working hard to tell stories that matter. But this fight is no more a lonely battle. We are all in this together.

“I am not on the ground to just report on the deaths. We need to highlight the struggles of people who have no access to isolation or safety. In any system of oppression, the most vulnerable will always suffer the most and be heard the least. Violence against women has increased. Homeless women and children, transgender people, sex workers and the refugee community are all suffering from this crisis.

Every time I take a photograph of someone, I become responsible for their history.

“The photographer provides the first line of ‘ethical defence’. They must follow the ethical code of practice and take responsibility for the images they capture. Photography can show the horror of war, the tragedy of an incident and the hardship of poverty, providing information that can be critical for decision-makers.

“I often ask myself how my stories can drive change. Visual journalists play an important role, providing vital information to communities affected by crisis. We have to continue to question how we tell these stories, make an impact, and minimise risks, both for our subjects and ourselves.

As a journalist and photographer, I work very closely with people.

“While this is an important story, it must not come at the expense of our health. I have to remind myself to maintain physical distance while I work. Wearing protective gear and breathing in it is hard. It can also be unnerving disinfecting myself every other minute. I must stay calm, not rush, and focus on what’s important.

“When I return from work and edit my images, I feel strange. I do not know when this pandemic will end, how people who live at the edge of society will survive. The family who have a little rice left in their kitchen; how will they continue living and dreaming for tomorrow?

Fabeha Monir on assignment for Oxfam in the Rohingya refugee camps, Cox’s Bazar. Photo: Mohammad Rakibul Hasan

There is no separation between my life and work.

“We can’t unplug from the suffering we are also experiencing while covering the pandemic. I look to the courage and strength of the people I photograph – this gives me the ability to wake up each day and continue reporting.

“Without any warning, our lives have now shifted from order to chaos. We cannot make plans. We are restless, not knowing what will happen next. But the astonishing part of covering this historic time is the acts of solidarity.

“We are more united mentally and spiritually than we have ever been before, though we have to distance ourselves physically.

“We are unique. We haven’t given up hope. While working closely with health professionals, humanitarian workers and security personnel, I have learned we must continue our work.

“When I document the lives of refugees, or the struggle of a single mother working to feed her children, it reminds me how we have to hold on to hope. If we let the pandemic take that away, there will be no way we can come out of it alive.”

*Name changed to protect identity.

'What will happen to us in Bangladesh?'

The hygiene kits JAGO NARI and the Coastal Youth Network are distributing include a month’s worth of supplies for a family
The hygiene kits include a month’s worth of supplies for a family: ten bars of soap, a kilo of detergent, eight reusable sanitary pads, 50 disposable masks, information, and a bucket with lid and tap for washing hands. Duke Ivn Amin/JAGO NARI

As COVID-19 spreads quietly through communities in Bangladesh, Oxfam partner JAGO NARI shifts into high gear.

What do you do when you live in extreme poverty and are ordered to shelter in place? You get frantic, and for good reason.

“People are in a panic,” says Duke Ivn Amin. “They have few food reserves, and since they are no longer allowed to go out and work, their supplies are quickly running out. The situation is very bad.”

Amin is the emergency response team leader for JAGO NARI, an Oxfam partner organisation in the Barguna district in southern Bangladesh.

“About ten of us are living at the JAGO NARI guest house so we can work out in the communities without putting our families at risk by going home at night,” he says. “It may be months before we see our families,” he adds.

JAGO NARI has been working in Barguna for more than 20 years, and Amin has been there from the start. So, while he’s missing his wife and 16-month-old son, he never seriously considered putting his own comfort and safety ahead of the Barguna communities. “We are at the front lines of this emergency,” he says. “We have to work.”

Fortunately, the government is starting distributions of rice, lentils, oil, and potatoes, which will make sheltering in place more realistic for many families, but without the knowledge and means to avoid transmission, they will remain acutely vulnerable.

“I feel very bad thinking about what’s coming,” says Amin.

Duke Ivn Amin, shown here with hand sanitizer made and distributed by JAGO NARI.
“Poor families need everyone’s support now,” says Duke Ivn Amin, shown here with hand sanitizer made and distributed by JAGO NARI. Photo: JAGO NARI

Building on local strengths

JAGO NARI is a Bangladeshi development organisation that emphasises women’s rights and environmental protection. The group worked closely with Oxfam for three years to strengthen its understanding of humanitarian work, and to build its capacity as an organisation. Now, JAGO NARI is able not only to launch rapid emergency responses but also to raise funds for that work from a variety of sources, which is key to its survival.

As a local organisation, its staff has a finger on the pulse of what’s happening in the Barguna communities; when the coronavirus crisis emerged, JAGO NARI noticed that youth organisations were engaging immediately in the response.

“Youth are always at the front lines in an emergency. They move fast and contribute so much,” says Amin. “And in this emergency, they are much less vulnerable than elders.”

But the groups lacked experience, coordination, and proper safety protocols, so JAGO NARI invited them to help form a new organisation: the Coastal Youth Network. Now they work together to get the word out, and they keep safety—their own and that of the communities—front and centre.

JAGO NARI and the Coastal Youth Network have been disseminating public health information through leaflets and radio shows, and cars that blast the messages out of loudspeakers. They’ve been going door to door distributing face masks and leaflets; within the week—with support from Oxfam—they will also be distributing hygiene kits (see photo), and Oxfam will help them step up their public health awareness campaign in hopes of reaching 35,000 people.

Everyone needs to come forward

There is frustration in Amin’s voice as he talks about the catastrophe bearing down on his communities.

“The international community was late in waking up to this crisis,” he says, and his own country has also stumbled. “There are many workers who migrate from Bangladesh to other countries for jobs; they return by the thousands but are not quarantined when they arrive. Now, they are spread out all over the country.”

The number of confirmed cases is growing at a worrying rate – our future reality could be grim. Doubly so because no one outside Dhaka is likely to have access to proper medical care.

As the wealthy countries of the world stagger under the weight of the coronavirus emergency, he asks, “What will happen to us in Bangladesh?”

“This is the biggest crisis our country has faced since the war of liberation,” he says, with a death toll that could dwarf the famine of 1974 or the powerful cyclones that hammer this country each year.

But thinking back to the war gives him a measure of hope. “Back then,” he says, “everyone came forward to do what they could. That’s what we need now, and I think it will happen.”

Oxfam is mobilising to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and to save lives in vulnerable communities around the world. Working closely with our local partner organisations, we are delivering clean water, sanitation, and public health promotion programs; supporting food security; and getting cash to many of those in greatest need. In Bangladesh, Oxfam has helped many local organisations strengthen their capacity as humanitarian responders. We will work hand in hand with them in the COVID-19 response.

You can help Oxfam reduce the risk of COVID-19 to those most vulnerable.