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Refugees and IDPs

Over 65 million people are currently fleeing conflict or persecution around the world. Due to their race, religion or nationality, these people’s homes are no longer safe places to live and their governments no longer provide them with protection.

MSF works around the world to provide refugees and internally displaced people (IDPs) with medical care - from psychological care to lifesaving nutrition. We set up hospitals in refugee camps, we help women give birth safely, we vaccinate children to prevent epidemics and we provide access to safe drinking water.

International law

Refugees are protected under international law. The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) is responsible for ensuring that refugees have the right to seek asylum, to receive assistance – food, shelter, medical care – to protection from violence and to bringing about a lasting solution to their situation.  

However, some policies are designed to deter refugees from seeking asylum: policies that condone inadequate processing or simply turn refugees away.

As well as providing healthcare and sanitation for refugees, we believe it is equally important to speak out about these policies.

The largest camp in the world

When countries do provide shelter, refugees are often forced to face the health impacts of living in unsanitary camps.

In 2017, approximately 700,000 Rohingya fled to Bangladesh following targeted violence against them in neighbouring Myanmar. They had little choice but to create makeshift settlements along the border without adequate access to shelter, food, clean water or latrines. 

“It’s absolutely astounding, heartbreaking and humbling to see how big this camp has become and how much need there is inside,” explains MSF’s Head of Mission in Bangladesh, Pavlo Kavolos.

“This is the largest refugee camp in the world right now, so the amount of work that needs to go into just maintaining the most basic humanitarian services is a tremendous challenge. The fact that the camp is so dense complicates that because there isn’t much room to build the facilities that are necessary.”

MSF activities have scaled up more than ten-fold since the beginning of the recent influx of Rohingya refugees. More than 2,000 MSF staff are providing medical services and solutions to the massive needs for clean water. 

Internally displaced people

While internally displaced people (IDPs) often flee their homes for similar reasons to refugees (armed conflict, human rights violations, natural disasters) technically, they are not refugees. IDPs have not crossed an international border to find refuge and therefore remain legally under the protection of their own government, even though that government is often the cause of their flight.

At the end of 2016, 40.3 million people were living in a situation of protracted internal displacement because of conflict and violence.

Despite international law calling for the protection of civilians in conflict, women and children are often deliberately targeted.

And, while programs exist to provide surgical and other care to these victims, the vast majority will not receive the care they need because they live in regions where the healthcare system has collapsed and where it is too dangerous for independent aid agencies to operate.

In 2016, MSF assisted internally displaced people in 16 countries.