A 25-year-old young mother smiles as she lays her 17-month-old son on a mat for a nap. His three-year-old sibling laughs enthusiastically just outside, energetically playing with friends, as his father carries an armload of food back to the family. It feels and sounds like a happy moment in the life of this household – but, for Rahima and her family, security and wellbeing are new prospects.
In 2017, the family was suddenly forced to flee their home near Buthidaung, Myanmar, when their neighborhood was attacked. Like thousands of other Rohingya refugees, they found safety from Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar district – an area that was transformed into the world’s largest refugee settlement, sanctuary to nearly 915,000 Rohingya.
“Our biggest challenge used to be the shelter where we lived. During the monsoon, whenever it rained, the floor got very wet and turned to mud…there were insects, and it was very unhealthy. It made our children sick.”
However, even though families have found safety here, they’ve also faced considerable challenges: environmental degradation. Insufficient sanitation. Lack of infrastructure. And, perhaps most devastating, the threat of catastrophic weather including the monsoon.
The monsoon has also brought additional fears to parents like Rahima: the possibility of floods and landslides. Extreme weather, steep slopes and makeshift shelters can be a deadly combination in such a densely-populated place.
Protecting refugees and improving shelters are the priorities
For many years, UNHCR and its partners have worked to save and improve the lives of Rohingya refugees by helping develop and safeguard the settlements in Cox’s Bazar district. Tens of thousands of shelters have been replaced or repaired, tens of hectares of degraded land have been replanted, and thousands of refugees have been trained in emergency response – among many other things.
In 2020, Rahima’s family received a new, improved shelter, which was constructed to withstand the effects of the monsoon and other extreme weather threats. The shelter was built with durable bamboo, and is elevated on small stilts so that water can flow under it.
“I used to be worried in our previous place, but now I’m not. The floor and the foundation are stronger,” Rahima says. “I’m not worried about the rains now; we are at peace. We look forward to a better life with your support.”
To learn more: 2020 Update and 2021 Plan
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was established on 14 December 1950 by the United Nations General Assembly. The agency is mandated to lead and coordinate international action to protect refugees and resolve refugee issues. It strives to ensure that everyone has the right to seek asylum and find safe refuge in another state, with the option to voluntarily return home when conditions are conducive for return, integrate locally or resettle to a third country. UNHCR has twice won the Nobel Peace Prize, in 1954 for its ground-breaking work in helping the refugees of Europe, and in 1981 for its worldwide assistance to refugees.