“It lacks everything”

On the run with their belongings © Aurelie Marrier d'Unienville (CI)

An end to the conflict in Myanmar is not in sight; hundreds of thousands of Rohingya have already fled. Aid workers describe dramatic impressions from overburdened camps in Bangladesh – and warn of disease and violence.

Food distribution closes, but people continue to line up for a meal. Women wash themselves between plastic sheets for fear of being attacked on the way to a toilet station. Children wander through the mud, without parents, toys or the prospect of a visit to kindergarten. Such scenes are commonplace at the Balukhali refugee camp in Cox's Bazar, the port city in southern Bangladesh where most refugees from Myanmar arrive. UN refugee aid now estimates a total of 900.000 refugees since August: the biggest refugee crisis in the world.

Malnourished children

At present, 250 people live in Camp Balukhali alone.000 people. Jennifer Bose, a staff member of the aid organization Care, was on site for two weeks. She describes the situation as catastrophic: "The people lack everything."And there are more and more. Up to 14.000 refugees reach Bangladesh every day, according to the International Red Cross. Many spent up to two weeks walking through the mountains, Bose reports.

According to estimates, 60 percent of the inhabitants of the refugee camps in Bangladesh are children. Around 145.000 of them are considered malnourished, according to Care. The aid workers are also particularly concerned about the 440 or so refugees in Bangladesh.000 women and girls who have experienced or witnessed sexual violence. In Myanmar, many men have recently disappeared or been murdered, explains Bose: Therefore, especially women with children have fled.

A lack of information and long distances to treatment and counseling centers in the camps have so far prevented victims of sexualized violence from receiving help. Also, many women and girls do not defecate until nighttime, Bose said. But: "In the darkness, the danger of attacks increases."

Lack of hygiene

The current shelters only provide visual protection, the aid worker continues. "It is extremely humid in the tents, rainwater seeps in. Washing in it is not hygienic."Still, most women retreat there – for fear of violence, he said.

Aid workers fear that diseases could soon break out in the camps in view of these conditions and the persistent rains. A central contact point for children who have lost their parents is still lacking in Balukhali. Aid workers also do not yet have access to all those in need.

Donor conference pledges financial aid

On Monday, the European Union, Western governments and other donors had pledged 290 million euros for the Rohingya refugees. This amount is not enough, however, emphasize aid workers. The 370 million euros initially sought would have been equivalent to 2.90 euros a day per refugee for six months, according to a Caritas calculation. Unicef also complains that the funds so far are far too small for the necessary aid deliveries.

Conflict between Myanmar's majority Buddhist population and Muslim minority escalated in late August when Rohingya rebels attacked soldiers and police and killed dozens of security forces. The military reacted with counter-violence. In the wake of the conflict, hundreds of thousands of Muslim Rohingya fled to Bangladesh.

Pope ahead of visit to Myanmar and Bangdadezh

Most recently, Pope Francis had also recalled their fate, especially that of children. They are victims of an "idolatry" of economic interests, the pope said at a Mass. Francis will travel to Myanmar and Bangladesh at the end of November. The official program does not include a visit to a refugee camp or a meeting with Rohingya representatives.

Aid workers agree that the crisis will not be over in a few months. Bangladesh itself, however, is considered one of the poorest countries in the world. "The crisis cannot be solved here alone," Bose warns. More support is needed in the long term, he said, so aid workers can structure their services and help more systematically. "About half of those I spoke to want to go back to Myanmar," Bose says. "However, not until it is safe there again."

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