Myanmar refugee camps: This is what daily life looks like

A young refugee girl shelters from the daily rains that flood her family’s makeshift tent at Balukhali refugee camp in Bangladesh

This is what daily life looks like in Balukhali camp, Bangladesh. Makeshift shelters made from plastic sheets and bamboo – not enough to protect people from the scorching heat nor the daily rains. Rudimentary toilets and washing facilities – women often wait until nightfall to relieve themselves in the open fields. There is a real threat of a disease outbreak.

People outside temporary shelters at refugee camp
Makeshift shelters at Balukhali camp. Most of the shelters provide no real protection: the plastic-covered tents heat up incredibly during the day, and flood when it rains.
Girl collecting mud/sand at refugee camp
A four-year-old girl collecting bags of mud to use as ballast to stabilise her family’s makeshift tent home. In the background, two children stand at a water pump.
View of Balukhali refugee camp Bangladesh
No end in sight: temporary shelters stretch across the hillsides as far as the eye can see

Balukhali camp hosts the majority of over half a million people who have fled from Myanmar to Bangladesh. Many have suffered horrific trauma as they fled from the violence that forced them from their villages in search of safety.

Three children at refugee camp in Bangladesh

These three refugee siblings (above), like so many refugee children, have witnessed scenes no child should ever have to endure. Armed men entered their home in Myanmar, raped their mother, then killed both parents. After the armed men left, their uncle found them and brought them with him to Bangladesh. They are still deeply traumatised and hardly speak to anyone. The youngest (in the middle), too young to really comprehend what has happened, still asks about her mother.

A woman refugee's hands at refugee camp in Bangladesh

Begum (above; not her real name) says it’s easy to identify the worst three days of her life. They are her last three days spent in Myanmar. She is one of countless refugees from Myanmar who have suffered or witnessed rape or were at risk of other forms of gender-based violence before fleeing to Bangladesh. Find her full story here on the New York Times website.

Man and his son at refugee camp in Bangladesh

This five-year-old boy (above) received bullet wounds in his hips when armed men attacked his village in Myanmar. His father Hafizulla (above) immediately carried him on his shoulders and took a boat to Bangladesh to get medical care at a hospital. He still cannot walk properly and stays in the tent most of the time. The rest of the family is still back in Bangladesh and could not come with him. He misses them dearly.

Women and children queuing for food at refugee camp in Bangladesh
Women and children wait at the central food distribution point in Balukhali camp

Almost 150,000 refugee children are malnourished. Toyoba’s one-year-old son (pictured above) is one of them. CARE International is working at Balukhali and other refugee camps to help identify and treat cases of severe acute malnutrition in children under five. So far, more than 13,000 children have been screened in the camps, out of which more than 11,000 will be treated with nutritional supplements over the next six months.

Woman and child at refugee camp in Bangladesh

It’s this young girl’s second time in the malnutrition centre (above). She, her mother and her four sisters fled to Bangladesh from Myanmar a few weeks ago after their house was burned down. She has been suffering from diarrhoea and requires treatment to not lose any more weight.

Man repairing umbrella

Despite these hardships, refugees like Abdulhakim (above) are doing what they can to try and cope in their new situation. Abdulhakim fled from Myanmar with his two-year-old son and wife – the only two family members he has left. The rest of his family died when armed men burned down their house. He is struggling to provide for his family but earns some occasional money by repairing umbrellas.

“Still, my own country is better and we would like to return one day,” he says, despite losing almost everything in the place he calls home.

People at snack stall at refugee camp in Bangladesh

Tayab (above) sold his mother’s earrings to open a shop in Balukhali camp. He fled to Bangladesh with his mother and siblings as their village was burned down. As he is too afraid of violence back in Myanmar, he wants to stay in Bangladesh and rebuild their lives. He now makes the equivalent of about 8 US dollars per day selling sweets and snacks at his small shop.

Man standing outside food stall in refugee camp in Bangladesh

Kairul Islam (above) is from Bangladesh and has lived around Balukhali for many years. He is pictured in front of his food stall in Balukhali camp where he mostly sells fried food to local people. When the refugees began arriving, he gave half his land to people who had been struggling to find space in the crowded camp.

“I feel good about them coming to Bangladesh and it is our obligation to help our brothers and sisters as fellow Muslims,” he says.

Young man holding paper at refugee camp in Bangladesh

Mohammed (above) is one of about 100-150 camp commanders in Balukhali camp. Mohammed is a refugee himself. He fled from Myanmar after his uncle was killed in front of his eyes and his village was burnt. Although aged only 20, he has taken on the responsibility for looking after 100 families, making sure they receive support. But there is not enough aid available for all, so he often has to divide food rations between the families.

A camp commander at refugee camp in Bangladesh

Abdulmannan (above) is another of the camp commanders in Balukhali camp. He says that the biggest problem in the camp is the lack of toilets. Most people are forced to go to the open fields to relieve themselves – something that is particularly difficult for women and girls, who often wait until nightfall, causing discomfort and potential health concerns, and putting them at greater risk of gender-based violence.

But although the situation in the camps is extremely challenging, Abdulmannan says he is grateful for all the support they are getting.

CARE is on the ground in Balukhali and other refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar district, where most refugees have sought shelter. Our teams are distributing food, household essentials, and shelter materials. We are creating women and adolescent-friendly spaces and providing counselling and a referral service for survivors of gender-based violence. We are supporting local partners to deliver community-based assessment and treatment of acute malnutrition. We are assisting with refugee camp management and the coordination of emergency responses in the refugee camps.

Please donate now to help provide food, shelter, clean water and other support to refugee families from Myanmar.

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Photos and interviews by Jennifer Bose, CARE Emergency Communications Officer

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News and stories are provided by CARE staff working to support our emergency responses and long-term development programmes.