Rohingya refugees: A thousand days of hope and courage

People walking across a field at the Cox’s Bazar refugee camps

In 2017, hundreds of thousands of Rohingya people fled Myanmar to seek safety in the Cox’s Bazar region of Bangladesh.

For three years, they have been waiting for justice. Waiting to have their rights back. Waiting to return home.

They are living in the world’s most overcrowded camps amidst a complex humanitarian situation – now made even more complex by the COVID-19 pandemic.

And right now, at the height of the pandemic, they are having to deal with the monsoon-cyclone season. Already, heavy downpours in Cox’s Bazar have inundated large areas in the camps.

Floods from heavy rain at refugee camp, Cox's Bazar
Floods at camp 16, Cox’s Bazar, following monsoon rains in June 2020

Despite the terrors they have experienced, the hardships they endure, and the uncertainty of their future, the Rohingya refugees have put up a brave and strong struggle for survival.

Back in 2017, Delder Begum walked for seven days with her young daughter to reach Cox’s Bazar. After 65 days of treatment at a local hospital, they were provided shelter at Camp 14, which is “home” for them now. Delder says:

When I fled Myanmar, I was only 25. But the last three years have matured me beyond time and redefined the meaning of life altogether. I am still trying to come to terms with the loss of my husband and sons but I find solace in contributing to my community here.

Delder is one of the most active members of the Women Disaster Management Volunteers of Camp 14, where CARE Bangladesh provides the site management. She has received training in disaster management that includes an Early Warning System, First Aid, and rescue efforts.

Woman pouring water into a fire drum at Cox's Bazar refugee camp
Delder Begum pouring water into a fire drum

Looking back on when she first arrived, Delder recalls her initial inability to adjust in the camp, primarily due to communication and socio-cultural barriers. Today, she is responsible for raising awareness and building capacity of 65 families on cyclone preparedness, landslide risk management, fire incidents, etc. She adds:

I feel so happy to see my daughter resume her education. I want her to complete her education and become a good leader.

Over the past three years, CARE has been working with the Rohingya population to improve their living conditions. A couple of hundred Rohingya volunteers working with CARE programmes have played a critical role. In addition to bringing about positive changes in others’ lives, the volunteers themselves have undergone massive transformation.

Men cleaning at Cox's Bazar refugee camp
A CARE Bangladesh staff member talks to Rohingya volunteer workers during a Camp Cleaning Festival at Camp 13

Atikul Islam from Palongkhali camp is another refugee helping his community as an Outreach Volunteer. Over the last three years, his perspectives, especially towards gender, have undergone dramatic changes.

From having strong conservative beliefs regarding women’s rights, today he advocates for gender equality and women’s empowerment in the camp. He engages with men and boys to make them aware about women’s rights and against any form of violence against women and girls. Atikul also works with women and girls to generate awareness about their rights and the services offered across different camps.

Girls with care package at Cox's Bazar refugee camp
CARE Bangladesh distributed emergency hygiene kits to 290 adolescent girls in Camp 15, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The kits included sanitary pads, toothpaste, soap, detergent powder and personal hygiene items.

Aziz, another volunteer from Camp 16, is considered a “real hero” by his CARE site management colleagues. He helps the site management team in preparing different handwritten communication materials in the Rohingya language. All communication and visibility materials in the information hub are handwritten by Aziz.

Meanwhile, he has improved his command over the English language and has enhanced his ICT knowledge and skills. He aspires to be a spokesperson for the rights of Rohingya people and motivate his fellow camp-mates to work together towards positive change.

Children playing football at Cox's Bazar refugee camp
A group of children play football at the Cox’s Bazar refugee camps

In the miasma of forgotten struggles of human beings, the Rohingya people still live a life of hope and optimism. As you walk down the narrow lanes of the overcrowded camps, the joyful laughter of children running around, the sight of competitive youth engaged in a friendly football match, the deep hope in the eyes of the women as they huddle with their infants – all this rekindles the hope that there can be a better world for these people, not too far away in the future.

Written by Ram Das, Deputy Country Director, Humanitarian Response, CARE Bangladesh

CARE staff group at Camp 13, Cox's Bazar
CARE Bangladesh field staff team at Camp 13

CARE’s response in Cox’s Bazar

CARE has been actively engaged in emergency response from the very onset of the emergency. For the past three years, CARE has provided support in terms of managing and coordinating supply of essential services in three camps, while supporting infrastructure development, setting up water supply systems, constructing toilets, installing hand washing points, ensuring cleanliness and hygiene in the camps, setting up health centres, supporting counselling and referral services for gender-based violence cases across eight camps. CARE has so far been able to reach about 200,000 people with these essential services.

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News and stories are provided by CARE staff working to support our emergency responses and long-term development programmes.