People living in Kutupalong camp, Bangladesh are truly living on ‘the edge’, facing poverty and violence, trapped in dangerous conditions and unable to leave. It’s here, Children on the Edge have been working for over a decade, supporting education for thousands of refugee children.
On 5th March 2023, a huge fire broke out in Balukhali’s Camp 11 in Kutupalong, destroying homes, learning centres, health centres and mosques. 12,000 people were left without shelter.
Shafaet, one of our partner staff in Cox’s Bazar, was on hand to help when the latest fire broke out. He and his colleagues arrived to find people in distress, running away from the blaze. Shafaet was able to offer assistance and help frightened people contact lost relatives.
Tin Lwin, whose home was destroyed in the blaze, told Shafaet the fire began at about 2.40pm on Sunday afternoon. His two young children were out playing at the time and said that two worrying hours passed before the family was reunited. He said: “There was a huge crowd. I was busy trying to save my house. It was a very bad time.”
The family spent Monday morning cleaning the burned debris that was once their shelter, and fixing a temporary roof.
Fires are common in the camps, with cramped conditions meaning that they spread easily and rapidly. As no permanent structures are permitted, houses are built with tarpaulin and bamboo; quickening the spread of fire further still.
According to the Ministry of Defence, there were 222 fire incidents in the camp between January 2021 and December 2022. In March 2021 at least 15 people died in a blaze that ripped through the camp, destroying 10,000 homes. Fires last year, in March 2022 destroyed four of our Learning Centres.
Alongside the risks posed by frequent fires in the camp, Rohingya refugees are now facing widespread violence and unrest. Tensions between political factions and affiliated armed groups have led to riots and threats to start more fires in the camps.
Rohingya militant groups that were once united in their fight against the Myanmar military following the brutal 2017 genocide that led to the mass exodus of Rohingya to Bangladesh, are now turning against each other. Amidst the isolated and desperate conditions in the camp, their disagreements have escalated into brutality. According to a recent article in the Washington Post, abductions, murders and armed robberies have ‘surged’, with radical groups ‘imposing a reign of terror’ after dark.
With no police or government protection, and little recourse for justice, people living in such close quarters, crowded into flimsy shelters, fear for their lives, as the militants target community leaders and anyone considered a ‘government informant’.
Recent reductions in food rations, announced by the World Food Programme, will only compound the situation. Rohingya refugees in Kutupalong are trapped in the camps, unable to leave or find formal employment, so they rely on food assistance to survive. According to medical charity MSF, health services in the camps are already under huge pressure, and are struggling to deal with the consequences of dire living conditions.
Poor sanitation already leads to frequent outbreaks of scabies, dengue fever and cholera. MSF says that without adequate nutrition, the Rohingya living in Kutupalong will be at further risk of measles and cholera outbreaks.
Along with other agencies working in Kutupalong, we are increasingly concerned that the rise in violence and reduction in food rations will only worsen the sense of desperation and isolation faced by the Rohingya, who have no hope of a safe return to their home country on the horizon.
Through our education programme, we remain committed to supporting refugee children with high quality education in our colourful learning centres; giving them hope for a better and brighter future.
Classrooms ensure vital health inputs and our digital education programme dubs lessons into the Rohingya language, ensuring the children can actually understand what is being taught.
‘Moja Kids’, our online newsletter offers the children a fun and enjoyable way to connect with other children, beyond the confines of the camps, in other areas of Bangladesh, and in a recent exciting development, with the children in our learning centres in India.