UNHCR survey of Myanmar refugees finds health, safety worries, but community spirit strong
As the refugee emergency in Bangladesh enters its fourth month, people are continuing to arrive from Myanmar however the pace of the influx has now slowed. UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency estimates average arrival rates have dropped from 745 per day in November to 100 per day so far this month. Two-thirds of the new arrivals in the last week said they came from Buthidaung in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine state.
Meanwhile a quick refugee assessment by UNHCR and 13 international and local partners in Bangladesh has found that the refugees have developed strong support networks.
Refugee women, men, boys, girls, elderly and persons with disabilities in Kutupalong, Nayapara and Kerontoli/Chakmarkul refugee sites were interviewed to identify the priority concerns and needs, and to find out about coping mechanisms and consider possible solutions. The findings of the assessment will guide 2018 interventions and help improve conditions.
Refugees surveyed expressed a number of worries. These included feeling unsafe at night given weak shelters and a lack of lighting, and concerns about general safety. Access to sanitation is still insufficient, leading sometimes to long queues for latrines. Women and girls are anxious about the shortage of private bathing spaces, forcing some to wash outside their shelters in the early morning hours.
The survey also found that some children have to walk longer distances to fetch water and bring firewood. Parents and children want access to education and more safe places for children to play.
Health services are a wide concern. Increased mental health support for those who have witnessed the killings or suffered torture or rape remains crucially needed. Refugees cite continued feelings of depression and rejection, especially among the elderly and disabled. Many young people are worried about their uncertain future.
Some refugees said that irregular food distributions and long queues had meant going hungry for days. Despite all these concerns and hardships, the assessment found strong solidarity and mutual support between refugees.
Drawing upon the findings of this latest assessment, UNHCR will further refine and reinforce its protection and assistance. The main priorities will include establishing more information points, orientation to existing services and strengthening an outreach programme.
UNHCR is improving its distribution systems and use of direct assistance to those unable to move. We are also providing alternatives to firewood to address child labour and environmental concerns. Efforts are also underway to provide better hygiene and more sanitary material to women and girls, improve access to latrines, upgrade shelter kits, install more communal lights, offer training and establish more child-friendly spaces.
There is also a need to strengthen primary health care facilities, increase mental health and psychosocial activities as well as sensitization on and responses to sexual and gender-based violence. UNHCR continues to work with partners to further strengthen these interventions.
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