Living conditions for Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, are dire. Arafa*, Sanowara* and Kefayetullah’s* stories highlight the daily struggle to survive in the face of monsoons and food scarcity.
The Rohingya refugee settlements in Cox’s Bazar, the world’s largest refugee camp, are dangerously overcrowded. A lack of funding has led to a cut in food rations and the deadly monsoon season is now underway.
Refugees face enormous challenges just to survive in these conditions. Three Rohingya share their stories of working tirelessly to support themselves and their communities in the face of constant hardship.
"During the monsoons, the people who live on the hills at the outskirts of the camp fear for their safety."
Arafa was born in a refugee camp in Bangladesh and today lives with her husband and two children in Cox's Bazar. After learning about cyclone preparation from a group of volunteers, she became interested in doing more to help her community.
Arafa began volunteering as a first responder in 2019. Since then, she has done incredible work – including helping to save children from drowning during a flood.
UNHCR trains Rohingya volunteers to carry out evacuations, conduct water rescues safely, perform first aid and repair shelters. Arafa says it’s particularly important for women to volunteer.
“We can provide support to elderly women who can’t go to communal shelters during natural disasters or to pregnant women who need help going to health centres or looking after their toddlers.”
“We cannot survive only eating lentils and mashed chillies for our whole life.”
Sanowara worked as a tailor in Myanmar before fleeing the violence in 2017 to seek safety in Bangladesh. She now uses her sewing skills by working at a jute factory supported by UNHCR. By making eco-friendly products such as bags, she earns a stipend that helps her buy meat, fish and clothing for her family.
“We cannot survive only eating lentils and mashed chillies our whole life,” says Sanowara. “We need money to buy fish, meat and medicine. That’s why I like working at this factory.”
Urbi Chakma, the factory manager, says the women gain both skills and confidence.
“The women are coming here to learn skills for the future. When they return to Myanmar, they can use these skills to earn a living and it gives them hope."
“When we start the training, they are so shy. But after the training, you see them raise their voices.”
“I’ve learned so much. When I return to Myanmar, I can continue growing food, but do it bigger and better.”
With so many refugees crowded into Cox’s Bazar, there is very little space for growing food. UNHCR is helping families establish rooftop and vertical gardens so they can grow their own produce and supplement the reduced rations.
Kefayetullah lives with his wife, Fatima, and their two children. Since they began gardening a few years ago, they are producing more vegetables than they can eat. Kefayetullah sells the surplus at a local market.
“Apart from fish, meat and other groceries, I sometimes buy clothes for my family and I also share with my relatives,” he says.
“We used to do traditional gardening in Myanmar. But, since I came here, I’ve learned so much and can do many technical things now. When I return to Myanmar, I can continue (growing food) but do it bigger and better.”
*Identities have been changed for privacy reasons.
Thanks to our generous donors, UNHCR is providing aid and protection to almost a million Rohingya refugees who fled violence and persecution in Myanmar.
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