Oxfam calls for urgent funding and support to help Rohingya refugees

By Oxfam
Collecting clean water in Kutupalong Camp. Photo: Tommy Trenchard / Oxfam

Women and girls, many who have fled rape and violence, are particularly vulnerable

Over one million people – recent arrivals, long-term refugees and host communities -- are in need of life-saving assistance in Bangladesh. More than 600,000 Rohingya refugees have crossed over to Bangladesh from Northern Rakhine State in Myanmar since August, and 2,000 more are arriving every day.

The Rohingya refugees are living in terrible conditions and need life-saving assistance now, including clean drinking water, sanitation, and hygiene, food and other essential emergency supplies. More than 70 percent of the newly arrived have no shelter, and only 50 percent have access to safe drinking water.

Among them are more than 300,000 women and girls who have fled rape and violence and who are not getting the protection and help they need because of a lack of funds.

Only a quarter of the UN's $434 million emergency humanitarian appeal has been delivered. With hundreds of thousands more people fleeing over the border, more money to plug this $320m funding gap is vital. There are now more than 120,000 pregnant women and mothers with new babies who are among those struggling to survive in cramped camps and settlements that are ill-equipped to deal with their needs. Of the 120,000 women, there are many pregnant teenagers and victims of rape. According to Cox’s Bazaar Civil Surgeon’s office, 50 infants are born daily into dire conditions in camps starved for water, food, shelter, and protection.

“The camps are completely overcrowded, and the limited facilities and safety puts women and girls at the risk of further harassment and sexual exploitation. The lack of toilets means women have to use open spaces,” said Nazmun Nahar, Oxfam’s Gender Justice Program Manager.

"Women are afraid of cleaning themselves when people are around, so they use toilets or water points during the night or early morning, and there’s no guarantee of their safety. Some women drink less water and stop consuming food to avoid having to use toilets. A lot more needs to be done.”

Oxfam has spoken to many women who have said that they have only washed once since crossing the border in the last two months. There are also reports of women being harassed at humanitarian aid distribution points and being victims of assault and theft.

More than half of the 600,000 Rohingya refugees who’ve arrived in Bangladesh are women, and 60 percent of these are girls under the age of 18. They’ve faced a treacherous journey across the border.. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) reports of women and girls, as young and five years old, being raped by men in army uniforms as they fled their homes.

Once they arrive in the large encampments, women and girls often find no segregated, safe, and closed toilets, bathing, or washing areas. Lack of toilets and menstrual hygiene is causing urinary and skin infections, and for mothers, it’s a struggle to breastfeed infants given the lack of safe spaces. Women who have survived rape and violence are struggling to cope with the trauma and need counseling and support.

Oxfam has reached more than 180,000 people by providing clean drinking water, portable toilets and sanitation facilities, plastic sheets, and other essential supplies. We are providing dignity kits—which include sanitary napkins, baskets, flashlights and soap—to meet the specific needs of women and girls.

We are also supporting the government and humanitarian partners to ensure that newly established refugee camps will meet the necessary humanitarian standards.

Our collaboration with partner national organizations, such as the NGO Forum for Public Health and Coast Trust, has brought invaluable insight into the response, as they bring in local knowledge and cultural sensitivity in delivering aid to the affected people.

The large influx of refugees has created a volatile and unpredictable situation on the ground. Governments and donors must act immediately with funding and other support to create a safe and stable place for refugees and host communities in Bangladesh. 

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