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As new arrivals top half a million in Bangladesh, UNHCR getting ever more refugees into shelter

Briefing notes

As new arrivals top half a million in Bangladesh, UNHCR getting ever more refugees into shelter

29 September 2017 Also available in:
Bangladesh. UNHCR getting ever more Rohingya into shelter
UNHCR protection officer Shirin Aktar gives Rohingya refugee Suruz Jahan, 75, a tarpaulin in Kutupalong refugee camp.

In a massive effort to cut the time Rohingya refugees spend in the open, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, this week started distributing plastic sheeting and essential relief items to refugees at the entry points to refugee settlements in Bangladesh.

The latest estimate of the number of Rohingya who have arrived in neighbouring Bangladesh since violence erupted in Myanmar has crossed the half million mark, at 501,000 as of Thursday.

Teams of UNHCR’s partner are also scouting crossing points on the border with Myanmar to see where plastic sheets, pots and pans, jerry cans, plastic mats and solar lamps can be handed to refugees as soon as they enter Bangladesh. This will minimize the time that refugees – already traumatized by the events that forced them to flee and by their harrowing journeys – will have to spend out in the open, and should cut down illness, malnutrition and decrease the threat of outbreak of contagious diseases.

Giving the newly arrived refugees the ability to construct their own shelter, begin cooking for themselves and taking care of their families is an important first step on the road to healing.

The 2,000-acre (809 hectare) Extension Site on the outskirts of Kutupalong Camp in southeast Bangladesh is already becoming more organised, and is turning into a series of communities as UNHCR and its partners, supporting the Bangladesh government, are able to deliver more emergency relief items.

To make it easier to bring aid into Kutupalong Extension Site, the Bangladeshi Army started constructing a road on 27 September. UNHCR is contributing US$ 2 million out of the total US$4.2 million budget, supporting Bangladesh’s Office of the Refugee Relief and Repatriation Coordinator (RRRC) to build the road. UNHCR is also urgently shipping in 23 vehicles to assist in aid efforts, including 10 pick-up trucks that will be donated to the government.

UNHCR nutrition experts estimate (based on recent surveys on both sides of the border) that almost one in five (18 per cent) of the new arrivals are suffering from acute malnutrition. If nothing is done soon, they warn that the proportion could rise to one in four. This is due to more than lack of food.

We witness dire need for psycho-social support and counselling among refugees. Also vital is the food and supplemental feeding for breastfeeding mothers and their babies, many of them severely traumatised, sick and malnourished.

UNHCR is working with partner Action Against Hunger (Action Contre la Faim) to provide warm meals. Many private donors have conducted ad hoc food distributions in the camps and this also is becoming more structured as life takes on some semblance of organization.

Meanwhile, As Bangladesh shoulders the full extent of this refugee crisis, UNHCR calls on all countries in the region to show solidarity and do their part in keeping their borders open and protecting refugees who are fleeing discrimination, persecution and violence in Myanmar.

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