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"The Rohingya crisis is a major crisis"

Emergency
Bangladesh

What is a major humanitarian crisis? Vanessa Cardamone, Emergency Preparedness Coordinator for Handicap International, was in Bangladesh in mid-September to help the organisation's teams in the country respond to this new crisis. She explains the specificities of the Rohingya crisis.

 Rohingya refugees fleeing Myanmar

Rohingya refugees fleeing Myanmar | © V. Cardamone / Handicap International

"The first reason the situation is so severe, is the sheer number of people affected: the 500,000 people who have fled Myanmar since the end of August have swollen the ranks of the 300,000 refugees already living in Bangladesh for years.

The other factor is the very sudden onset of the most recent crisis with the mass influx of hundreds of thousands of people within a very short space of time: half a million people arrived in the Cox's Bazaar district in less than one month. The humanitarian consequences are drastic.

This is particularly true in the Cox’s Bazaar region which is one of the poorest and most vulnerable in Bangladesh. There is a lack of public and private-sector services, very few employment opportunities and limited natural resources. This coastal region is also regularly affected by natural disasters, mainly cyclones and flooding.

Many of the refugees have been injured, are suffering from burns, firearm injuries, or have fractured a limb when fleeing through the jungle on foot in total chaos. They arrive in Bangladesh with nothing but the clothes on their backs. The NGOs and State services response capacity is still insufficient.

The humanitarian needs are immense: food distributions, access to drinking water, temporary shelter. Currently, only 20% of the requirements in terms of emergency humanitarian aid are covered.  This also contributes to the severity of this crisis. If the basic needs are not met, people may die.

The refugees have been abandoned

The refugees find themselves in a truly disastrous situation. Thousands of people have set up home along the roadside in the hope of obtaining aid. Many of them are sleeping out in the open air despite the start of the rainy season. The refugees are forced to go to the toilet wherever they can, creating a high risk of contamination. Pregnant women are giving birth in horrifically precarious circumstances; children have lost their parents. It is total chaos. The funding required to organise the emergency response is not getting through.

Handicap International is responding to the crisis

We very quickly began to adapt our actions in the country to address this new crisis. Our rehabilitation activities were designed to follow patients over the long term, but have now been reorganised to take on people being treated by the medical services or NGOs. A typical example would be someone who has had surgery and needs post-operative physiotherapy, delivered by HI. This is a vital step to avoid the onset of disabilities.

We also offer emergency psychological support, as it is absolutely essential for people traumatised by the violence they are fleeing to be able to speak to someone as quickly as possible. 

Finally, we implement identification campaigns which involve mobile teams conducting community surveys to identify the most vulnerable people and determine their needs.

As soon as we obtain the necessary funding we will also be able to meet the refugees' basic needs, with distributions of food and non-food items.

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