Today, the Cox’s Bazar district hosts nearly 900,000 Rohingya people, and the massive camps have turned its hills into a sea of shelters cut off from the world by barbed wire and razor fencing. It’s the largest refugee camp in the world, but the refuge provided by the Bangladeshi government was offered as a temporary solution. As a result, most shelters are made from temporary materials such as bamboo and plastic sheeting that flood in the rain, offer no protection from intruders, and are built on top of each other. In March, a fire spread rapidly, destroying the shelters of 50,000 people and six health clinics, including one run by MSF. Fifteen people died.
“The camps are congested, and we are seeing a really worrying environmental impact on people living there,” said Bernard Wiseman, who was MSF’s head of mission in Cox’s Bazar from June 2020 to June 2021. “[They are] underfunded, especially for water and sanitation services—only a fraction of funding requested for these services was received in 2021. This has medical consequences—we’re starting to see a lot of skin infections and other issues related to deteriorating water and sanitation services.”
On top of this, Rohingya people are not given refugee status in Bangladesh (Bangladesh has not acceded to the 1951 international refugee convention). This means they are denied the right to education, employment, free movement, and access to social security or public assistance—just a few of the rights afforded to refugees under United Nations (UN) conventions.
“We were oppressed in Myanmar,” said Solim, who worked with MSF for 20 years in Rakhine state. “Our children did not have a chance to get proper education. Now we have no fear of being tortured and our children are getting an education. But it has been four years, [and] we do not have any jobs.”