Caritas raises alarm over safety of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh

A Rohingya refugee camp has been devastated by a huge fire in March. (Photo by Mr. Al Imran, Caritas Bangladesh)

The social action arm of the Catholic Church in Bangladesh has raised alarm over the safety of Rohingya refugees in the country as the monsoon season nears.

"It's a race against time to help people build shelters strong enough to withstand the howling winds and driving rains that will arrive within the next few days,” said Inmanuel Chayan Biswas of Caritas Bangladesh.

A huge fire devastated the world’s largest refugee camp last month, killing 15 people and destroying shelters and property, affecting about 92,000 people.

An estimated 10,000 structures including latrines, health facilities, community facilities, and mosques were damaged by the fire, creating an urgent need for food, emergency shelter, water and sanitation.

Biswas said it was “the biggest fire ever in a Rohingya camp.” He said the situation “is changing rapidly” and shelters have to be built.

He said the biggest impact of the fire is on the mental state of women and children. “Their safety has been compromised as they've been living in makeshift homes since the fire,” said Biswas.

"My family lost everything due to the fire,” said Minuara Begum who lost shelter to the fire. “We don't feel safe at all inside the camp, especially at night," she said.

Caritas Bangladesh personnel speak with affected families following a huge fire that his a Rohingya refugee camp in Bangladesh. (Photo by Mr. Saidul, Caritas Bangladesh)

Added to health concerns brought about by the pandemic, the monsoon season threatens to bring with it the risk of floods and landslides, threatening the temporary shelters of about 1.1 million Rohingya refugees living in various camps in Bangladesh.

Caritas, along with the International Organization for Migration, has been helping rebuild makeshift shelters immediately after the fire.

Bishop Gervas Rozario, president of Caritas Bangladesh, said the organization is "trying its best to help the Rohingya refugees as much as it can."

He said many Rohingya shelters were also "burnt down for reasons unknown," adding that "people are living in the open without shade.” 

"Our efforts will continue to help them as long as they need and we can," said the prelate.

Caritas Bangladesh has so far helped about 650 families build shelters and has provided necessary materials to ensure immediate access to water and sanitation.

Biswas appealed to the international community for help, saying that “Bangladesh, as a developing country, can’t do this alone.”

Biswas said political support is necessary to start “a peaceful repatriation process,” adding that delays in the process will only increase the suffering of the Rohingya refugees.

Caritas has been helping an average of 300,000 Rohingya refugees since September 2017.

Beyond providing shelter and water and sanitation, the organization provides non-food item support, educational activities, disaster risk reduction programs, cash-for-work programs and protection activities to ensure the safety of women and children. - LiCAS.news with a report from Nikhil Gomez / RVA News