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Inhumane living conditions of Rohingya refugees putting most vulnerable at risk

Press release | London, 23rd November 2017, 17:00 GMT

Zibon Sona, an 80 year old widow who was forced to leave Myanmar in September 2017.

Zibon Sona, an 80 year old widow who was forced to leave Myanmar in September 2017. | © A. Islam/HI

622,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh since 25th August from neighbouring Myanmar [1]. Handicap International’s teams are supporting the most vulnerable refugees by providing emergency humanitarian assistance.

Gilles Nouzies, manager of Handicap International’s programmes in Asia, recently travelled to Bangladesh to visit Kutupalong camp, the main refugee camp, where more than 400,000 people who have fled Myanmar are living. He witnessed the appalling humanitarian situation on the ground: “The number of people in this camp is hard to take in. The tents stretch as far as the eye can see, over nearly 2,500 hectares. The temporary shelters are made from plastic sheeting over a bamboo frame. Even the smallest storm would flatten them. Each shelter measures about twenty square metres. It’s big enough for two families on average - about a dozen people. That’s one and half square metres per person. People are crowded together. These are inhumane living conditions.

Some issues need to be tackled immediately such as enabling access to drinking water as well as stopping the flow of waste-water to prevent epidemics.  “There’s already a shortage of drinking water in the region. It’s hard to dig wells. People are drinking shallow groundwater contaminated with fecal matter, which happens a lot in overcrowded conditions. There’s a real risk of an epidemic. A lot of children I’ve seen have skin problems - they’re covered in spots,” explains Gilles.

Access to humanitarian aid is also very hard for the most vulnerable people. Sadly we know from experience that, in a crisis of this scale, disabled people and other vulnerable groups struggle to access the care they need and can easily find themselves excluded and forgotten.

People like Zibon Sona, an 80 year old widow. She was forced to leave Myanmar in September 2017 and sought refuge in a refugee camp in Bangladesh. Due to a physical disability, she is unable to move from her tarpaulin shelter and is reliant on her daughter for basic care.  “I lie alone under this tent all day long. My whole body is in pain and we are hungry all of the time. My daughter is trying to care for me but she has to look after the rest of the family. She has to leave me here to go and find food and clean water. I can’t wash myself or go to the toilets on my own, so I am trapped.” says Zibon.

Handicap International has seven mobile teams who have been travelling around the camps for several weeks to access the most vulnerable people like Zibon. The organisation provides basic medical assistance, rehabilitation and psychological care as well as information on the other services, to which the organisation directs refugees.

Handicap International also has seven reception centres located at key points in the camps, which provide similar services.

The situation on the ground is particularly alarming and overwhelming: “We’ve never had to deal with so many people in such a short period of time. And the numbers are growing all the time. We’ve been providing emergency aid for the last two months, population flows have not stabilised and every week the arrival of new refugees means that we’re constantly having to adapt,” says Gilles.

The organisation is helping the UN Refugee Agency at the transit points it has set up on the border to identify new arrivals and spot the most vulnerable people.


Interviews available upon request.
[1] ISCG Situation Report: Rohingya Refugee Crisis, Cox’s Bazar - 21 Nov 2017

Press contact

Marlene Sigonney, Handicap International UK
[email protected] (temporary) | +44 (0)870 774 3737 | +44 (0)7508 810 520

About Handicap International

Co-winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, Handicap International is a charity working in situations of poverty and exclusion, conflict and disaster. We work tirelessly alongside disabled and vulnerable people to help meet their basic needs, improve their living conditions and promote respect for their dignity and fundamental rights.

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