Cox’s Bazar: Six years living in the Rohingya refugee camps

23 Aug 2023

It’s been six years since 700,000 Rohingya people fled their homes in Myanmar to escape violent persecution and sought refuge in neighbouring Bangladesh. 

Now, almost one million people are still living in camps that were designed to be temporary. I visited the Cox’s Bazar refugee camps earlier this month and saw first-hand the realities of this living situation. During the visit, there were torrential downpours.

Jennifer Tierney

Jennifer Tierney, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) Australia executive director, visited Cox’s Bazar refugee camp early August 2023. © Ashley Killeen/MSF

One woman invited us into her home, grabbing the opportunity to show somebody, anybody, what she was suffering through. What she shared with us, I’d like to share with you.  

She was a single mother with eight children in one room with a dirt floor and a leaking ceiling. Her anger was palpable. The rains were forcing garbage into the latrine and water point, making them unusable. This meant that she had to seek water elsewhere while seeking repairs for hers, and she was facing threats from the community around that water point for doing so.  

Her food rations have been cut to 800 taka from 1,200 taka per month – the equivalent of $8USD per month. She and her children were living on rice, oil and salt alone, and she had to use some of her ration money to pay someone to fix the latrine and water point, as it was her only resource, given the Rohingya are not allowed to work. 

She and other community members were justifiably upset about how the lack of transport inside the camp led to negative health outcomes, particularly for women, who may be forced to give birth without assistance, leading to women and babies dying in childbirth. This is compounded by the fact that the health posts in the camps are often unstaffed, and often are not stocked with medicine they need.

Seeing these conditions, it’s easy to see why hundreds of thousands of people – around 40 per cent   – living in these camps are affected by a scabies outbreak. While the skin condition is usually easy to treat, the severe overcrowding and appalling water, sanitation and hygiene conditions of the camps make it very difficult to eliminate the parasite that causes the infestation.

With the cuts in food rations, many people do not have enough to eat. This puts people at increased risk of malnutrition and anaemia.

The recent rain and flash flooding means that on top of all the complex challenges the Rohingya people are already facing, they may soon be at risk of water-borne illnesses such as acute watery diarrhoea and mosquito-borne illnesses like dengue fever.  

Despite the immense hardships they are facing, I see the Rohingya community here are determined not to lose sight of their cultural identity and to continue expressing their fundamental humanity. 

If, like us, you believe that every person should have access to essential healthcare and basic human rights, join us in standing with Rohingya communities.

Will you support our medical work?