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.

WORLD REFUGEE DAY 2018

Today, almost 45,000 people will be forced to flee their homes due to conflict and persecution. But there is nothing unusual about today – the same thing will happen tomorrow and every day after that.

There is no end in sight to this unprecedented displacement, and unless global political leaders take action, this is a tragedy that will continue to unfold.

To mark World Refugee Day, we meet just some of the 68.5 million refugees and displaced people forced to leave their homes – and the life they once knew – behind.

 

Nur* (35) with her youngest child Sikander* (2) outside their shelter in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. Photo: Kelsey-Rae Taylor/Oxfam

In Bangladesh, Nur* and her children live in a makeshift camp in Cox’s Bazar. They were forced to flee the violence in Myanmar, which claimed the life of Nur’s husband.

“We had to struggle such a lot for four nights and five days on our way over here,” said Nur*. “We had to starve for four days. We had to crawl over hills.

“My shoulder swelled up to my neck as I had to carry my baby by fastening him with a rope. If he fell, I knew I’d lose him.

“Our tears dried up, we lost our hunger. We had to go through such traumatic circumstances to reach safety.  

“We could not sleep in Myanmar because we were afraid but we can sleep well here in the camp. There, we could not sleep, we were always tense. But here we don’t have that sort of fear.”

Ikhlas and Ali sit with their son Muhamed* inside their container at the Filippiada camp in Greece. Photo: Andy Aitchison/Oxfam

Meanwhile, Ali and Ikhlas and their young son Muhamed* are trying to adjust to their new life after fleeing the war in Syria.

The young family is currently living in a camp on the Greek island of Lesvos after being saved by the coast guard. They had been en route to Italy when the sea conditions deteriorated. “We were at sea on a boat with another 47 people,” said Ali (30). “The sea got very rough. It was terrifying. My wife and my little boy were with me and I cannot swim.

“Thankfully the Greek navy came and helped us… I was looking at my phone every minute, hoping it would end. The whole thing lasted 55 minutes. I still have nightmares because of it.”

Back in Syria, Ali was a farmer and had his own livestock. But he said: “Because of the bombings, we had to leave everything behind. I have seven brothers; only one of them is still in Syria, while the other six are in Germany. We would like to join them and start a new life away from bombs and violence.”

Dieudonné* was forced to flee his home with his wife and four children. Photo: John Wessels/Oxfam

Elsewhere, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Dieudonné* describes how he and his family were attacked by their neighbours from a nearby village. Seven people were killed during the violence, forcing the father of four and his family to seek refuge in a camp miles from home.

“When we fled, we would sleep during the day in the bush and carry on the journey at night,” he said. “We had to walk all night because we feared they would spot us and arrest us.”

Dieudonné* said the attackers set fire to his house and his livestock, adding: “That’s all the wealth I had. Now I am left with nothing.”

Oxfam is working in refugee camps worldwide, providing life-saving aid including clean water, sanitation and food to those who have been forced to flee. In addition, we help to protect refugees from violence and abuse, ensure they understand their rights and give them access to free legal aid.

*Names changed

Rohingya refugees: Finding hope amongst the hopelessness

The impending monsoon rains are bearing down on the Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh and there's no getting around it - it’s going to be a really tough time.

I've just finished 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 Rohingya refugee ‘mega-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.

The camps are in what they call the pre-monsoon rains at the moment, where every couple of days a ferocious storm will hit for an hour or so.

This rain is nothing like I’m used to.

The falling water has an almost physical quality, beating down on you, and the rain can be so heavy you struggle to see the other side of a road.

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

It's estimated that more than 600,000 people are living in the Rohingya refugee mega-camp alone - a bigger population than all of county Cork in Ireland.

How the full monsoon is going to impact this many people in such desperate living conditions is what’s top of mind for aid workers.

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

They are denied citizenship in their country – they feel they have nowhere they belong and have nowhere to call home right now. No-one knows what their future holds.

They're awaiting monsoon rains likely to bring floods, landslides and potentially deadly water-borne diseases. The United Nations (UN) estimates up to 200,000 people are living in at-risk areas of the camps.

As much as 2.5 metres of rain could fall on the camps over the next three months.

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 put up her hand to volunteer, and now runs 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 with aid workers - "goodbye, how are you, I am fine."

Oxfam is in Bangladesh, providing food and life-saving clean water to those fleeing Myanmar and the host communities that have opened their doors to them. But we desparately need your support as more and more traumatised men, women and children arrive in Bangladesh every day.

You can support Oxfam’s Rohingya Crisis Appeal at: https://www.oxfamireland.org/bangladesh

Dylan Quinnell was media manager for Oxfam’s Rohingya Crisis Response for three weeks in April/ May. He is senior media coordinator for emergencies at Oxfam Australia.

*not her real name

 

Kutapalong Rohingya refugee camp: preparations for monsoon season

One woman leading the way for healthy mothers in Bangladesh's refugee camps

By AJM Zobaidur Rahman, Campaigns and Communications Officer, Oxfam in Bangladesh

Rajiah, sitting here in her home in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, is a community health volunteer who helps share health information with pregnant refugee women. Photo Credit: OXFAM

Rajiah, 46, fled violence near her home in Myanmar 6 months ago, with her younger daughter, who is 15 years old. She is now living in a refugee camp in Bangladesh with thousand other Rohingya. Rajiah is one of close to a million Rohingya people have fled violence in Myanmar to seek refuge across the border in Bangladesh. This unprecedented number of refugees, of whom more than half are children, has caused a large-scale humanitarian crisis.

Left: Rajiah sharing health information with a pregnant woman in her home in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. Right: Rajiah walking through the refugee camp to visit her pregnant neighbor in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. Photo Credit: OXFAM

WOMEN HELPING WOMEN SURVIVE AND THRIVE

Rajiah has been surrounded by women throughout her life as the eldest of 10 sisters. She herself has 5 daughters, two of which are also in camps living as refugees in Bangladesh with their husbands, while the other two remain in Myanmar. Tragically, Rajiah’s husband disappeared when the violence broke out in Myanmar and Rajiah has no way of knowing where he is. Like so many women in the camp, Rajiah must head up her household alone.

Oxfam has come to know Rajiah as a leader when she was unanimously selected to represent her community during an Oxfam assessment of what their most pressing needs were. Rajiah is well educated and has been working with and for her community throughout her life. She told us that she delivered some 10,000 babies as a midwife in Myanmar.

Now, as a refugee in Bangladesh, she is making sure she puts her experience to good use and supports and provides information to the pregnant women in her community. Her name means “Hope” - a true reflection of her personality and life’s work.

Left: Rajiah and her younger daughter inside her house in the refugee camp. Right: Rajiah taking notes about International Women's Day. Photo Credit: OXFAM

RAJIAH BRINGS LEADERSHIP TO COX'S BAZAR

Rajiah was born in a relatively affluent family in Myanmar. Education was an important part of her childhood, and her family made sure all the girls had 8 years of schooling. Rajiah speaks particularly highly of her father, who she says was the greatest influence in her life.

Rajiah honed her leadership skills from a young age, starting at school as a class leader. Later, organizations who were working in her community, including the UN, selected Rajiah as one of their volunteers. She continued working as a health worker and played a major role in the vaccination process in her area, helping to prevent children dying needlessly from preventable illnesses.

Rajiah is outspoken and confident, a full believer in women’s role outside the household. That way, she says, women can get knowledge and they can advance – and then other women can also come forward simply by seeing these role models. She is very keen on working and further helping her community, especially the women in her community.

OXFAM IS THERE

Oxfam is planning to organize women’s groups in the camps and Rajiah is the ideal person to lead this process in her community. With her leadership skills, kind and warm personality, she will undoubtedly make great progress with the women in the community. Oxfam is also currently focusing on providing water and sanitation and adapting to better deal with the crowded conditions and sheer numbers of people. We are drilling wells and installing water points, toilets and showers. We’re also helping people stay healthy and hygienic by distributing soap and other essentials and working with community-based volunteers to emphasize the importance of clean water and good hygiene, especially as monsoon season approaches. So far, we have reached at least 185,000 people, and hope to reach more than 250,000 in the coming months.

Donate now to help those in refugees camps in Bangladesh

Rohingya Crisis

As the year draws to a close, the traumatic events of 2017 are still very raw for the Rohingya people. Hundreds and thousands of them have fled to Bangladesh since the summer, many wearing nothing but the clothes on their backs.

Their journeys from Myanmar were laden with misery and terror. Refugees witnessed pain and suffering on a massive scale – nightmares they will relive for many years to come. They spoke of rape and sexual violence, of young children being maimed and abused. They fled landmines and bullets and saw their loved ones die in cold blood.

By the end of November, the number of refugees in the Cox’s Bazaar district of Bangladesh had passed 836,000. Living in overcrowded camps with overflowing latrines and contaminated water, they face heavy rains and the 2018 cyclone season which threatens to wash away shelters and spread water-borne diseases.

Oxfam is on the ground providing safe drinking water, food and other essentials, and is ramping up its work before cyclone season hits.

In the meantime, the voices of those who have fled Myanmar are being heard – and their stories are harrowing.

Razida* (35) carries her 10-month-old son Anisul* through Unchiprang Camp in Bangladesh. Photo: Tommy Trenchard/Oxfam

“They burned my home and shot my husband dead,” said Razida* who spent six days walking to Bangladesh with her eight children. “The women and children ran away – we were safe, but the attackers surrounded the men and killed them so they couldn’t bring us anything. We had to even borrow money to cross the border.

"I left with all my children, I had to leave. How can I feel anything at all now? I’ve got shelter but no clean water and nowhere to shower. My children are sick and I am sick from worrying."

Fatima takes a rest in Dhokin Para school in Shah Puri Dwip after crossing over from Myanmar by boat two nights ago with her husband and young son. Photo: Tommy Trenchard/Oxfam

When Fatima’s house was burned down, she, her husband and their young son fled for their lives. Fatima was heavily pregnant when the family made their escape – but the lengthy journey was an ordeal for the expectant mother.

“Our house was burned down so we ran and we hid from village to village,” she explained. “I’m eight months pregnant and my feet are swollen. Yesterday when I arrived, I was in a bad condition. The locals fed me and gave me a wash.”

Elsewhere, others spoke of the horrific scenes they witnessed while fleeing to Bangladesh.

Setara* (47) with her daughter Nur*. Photo: Tommy Trenchard/Oxfam

Setara (47), who made the journey with her parents and seven of her children, said: “We had to walk for three days without food. My girl was almost dying, I thought she would die on the way. We passed so many dead bodies on the way.”

“When I left I only had my children and the clothes on my back,” added Setara, who also revealed how her eldest son had been beaten and had disappeared.

These are the voices of just some of the Rohingya people who have had to flee unimaginable violence in recent months. This new year must offer these refugees a sense of security and hope for the future.

Please give what you can to help mothers like Razida*, Fatima* and Setara* and the families they will do anything to protect.

Thank you.

Family reunification bill advances through Seanad despite Government attempts to derail

8 November 2017
 
The Government today attempted to derail the passage of a bill aimed at enabling refugees living in Ireland to be reunited with family members. Following a vote, the bill passed committee stage in the Seanad despite the government voting against it.
 
However, although having majority backing from across the political spectrum, Minister David Stanton, speaking against the bill, indicated that Government are planning to block further progress when it reaches the Dáil via invoking a controversial, little-known technical power which denies a “money message”1 for the Bill.
 
The Family Reunification Bill seeks to undo the unintended consequences of the International Protection Act 2015 which narrowed the definition of the family for refugees to include only a spouse and children under 18. 
 
This has had a devastating impact on the lives of refugees settled in Ireland. It has separated children aged 18 and over from their parents, divided siblings and destroyed extended family networks. 
 
The Bill was introduced by the Seanad Civil Engagement Group; Senators Colette Kelleher, Frances Black, Alice-Mary Higgins, Lynn Ruane, Grace O'Sullivan and John Dolan, who worked with Oxfam Ireland, Nasc and the Irish Refugee Council on the new legislation. 
 
Senator Colette Kelleher said; 
“We were happy to win the vote in the Seanad today however the government’s stated intention to use an obscure technicality to block the Bill’s passage in the Dáil is a devastating blow to those refugees who have already been recognised and settled in Ireland. This Bill would make it more straightforward for siblings over 18 and other immediate family dependents to apply to join those already granted asylum in Ireland.
 
This legislation simply seeks to restore the definition of family which stood from 1996 - 2015 and one which is more in tune with an Irish understanding of a wider, more inclusive one.
 
I know of refugee families in Ireland who are separated from their parents or older children. They long to have them join them in Ireland but haven’t been allowed due to the existing legislation. Sadly, the government isn't listening and has decided to thwart our attempts to change this. We plan to continue to advocate on behalf of refugees and push to change the law to make it simpler for family members to join their loved ones.”
 
Senator Alice-Mary Higgins said; 
“The small number of refugees settled in Ireland have often fled traumatic situations and endured distressing journeys to arrive here. Anyone starting a new life in a different country needs support and integration and the best way to do this is with your family beside you.
 
It is disappointing that rather than address this Bill on its merits, the government are planning to block its future progress via the controversial and rarely-used denial of a money message. This is not in the true spirit of democracy and could be seen as showing a disregard for the legislative process.
 
Ireland was co-chair the 2016 UN Summit for Refugees and Migrants and should be showing global leadership rather than indulging in evasions and excuses which damage people's lives. We urge the government to reconsider their position and face up to their moral responsibilities on family reunification."
 
ENDS
 
Daniel English 
Oxfam Ireland
086 3544954 
 
1. Money message: In order for Private Members’ Bills which are deemed by the Ceann Comhairle to involve a charge on the State to progress to committee stage in the Dáil, they need a ‘money message’ from the government. Historically, this mechanism has rarely been used. However, the denial of a money message has recently been used to block a number of opposition Bills from reaching Committee stage in the Dáil.
 

Pages