Myanmar refugee crisis: Women and children need help

CARE’s Zia Choudhury talks to a woman refugee near the Balukhali makeshift refugee camp

CARE staff have been talking to refugees at the Balukhali refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, and it is clear that women, children and babies – who make up more than 80 percent of the refugees – are in a desperate situation.

“Our team spoke to dozens of women, and almost all appear traumatised by experiences in the last few weeks and months,” says Zia Choudhury, CARE Bangladesh’s Country Director.

Many trekked barefoot for days, through fields, jungles and rivers to get here. I spoke to many women who made this journey while pregnant or carrying small children.

CARE staff talks to young girl in refugee camp
A member of CARE’s assessment team talks to a young girl in Balukhali camp

CARE’s assessment in Balukhali camp indicates that more than half of all new arrivals are living in the open or under basic and fragile shelters, often made out of sticks and plastic bags. Women and children lack privacy, safe places to sleep, sufficient sanitation facilities and mental health support. Zia Choudhury says:

Women and children need urgent support to help them recover from the horrific journey from Myanmar, as well as to live with dignity in these terribly overcrowded and chaotic places where they seek safety.

Woman and baby in Bangladesh refugee camp
This woman told us that she tried not to drink much water during the day to avoid having to go to the toilet, as the camp does not have enough toilet or washing facilities

According to CARE’s assessment, about 6,000 people are sharing three latrines. Choudhury says:

“Women often wait till dark before relieving themselves, going out in groups for safety. Pregnant, lactating and menstruating women are in a desperate situation and are compromising their health due to the lack of bathrooms and showers.”

According to CARE’s findings the average queuing time to use one of the toilets is close to two hours. Choudhury says:

In 20 years of working with refugees across the world, these are some of the worst conditions I have seen. I am fearful that conditions are perfect for an epidemic, and then we will have a second disaster.

In addition, a lot of mothers do not have the means to feed their children. Most families only eat one meal a day, often just plain rice, and there are already signs of severe malnutrition.

Mothers also worry for their children’s mental and physical health; many children are suffering from traumatic experiences, skin diseases, diarrhoea and fevers.

Children collecting water at the refugee camp
Children collecting water at one of the few water points in the camp

We also believe that more than 1,000 children have arrived in Bangladesh without either of their parents. Choudhury says:

I met a boy, perhaps 3 or 4 years old, standing in a muddy puddle, shaking with fever and quietly weeping. He did not know where his mother was.

More than 300,000 women and children have fled from Myanmar to Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh, says Choudhury, and they are in urgent need of safe shelter, health services, sanitary facilities and protection. We are scaling up our response to provide food, treatment of acute malnutrition and mobile clinics for women and children. We are urgently appealing for funds to enable us to reach at least 75,000 people in need.

Woman and baby in the refugee camp
A woman and her child outside a makeshift shelter constructed on a muddy hillside

CARE’s response

CARE is:

  • Providing food to over 3,500 people for an initial period of 15 days.
  • Distributing high quality umbrellas to more than 2,000 people, many of whom have no other protection from the heavy rains.

We are scaling up our response to:

  • Identify and treat cases of acute malnutrition.
  • Distribute hygiene and safe delivery kits and provide health services focused on women.
  • Offer treatment and counselling for survivors of sexual violence.
  • Distribute shelter material like bamboo, rope and tarpaulins to help build basic shelters.
  • Distribute kitchen sets (pots, pans, etc).

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