Rohingya Crisis: Living Through the Monsoon Season

Living in a makeshift shelter among 600,000 other people in the world’s largest refugee camp is challenging. But when the monsoon season begins in Bangladesh, families who have already lost nearly everything anxiously wait, holding their breath, and hoping against hope that heavy rains and wind will spare the little they have left.

When Medair’s shelter team sets out one early July morning, relentless rain was already plaguing the camp and there was serious cause for concern, “All the shelters in the camp are built on the slopes of sandy hills,” said Esteban Kang, Shelter Project Manager. “With this rain, it’s very difficult to keep them grounded.”

Ahead of the monsoon season, together with other aid organizations, Medair worked to mitigate risks associated with the coming rains by distributing transitional shelter kits containing materials to help strengthen homes and provide additional protection for families. By July, due to sustained rains, an emergency response was activated.

Esteban Kang (right), Shelter Project Manager, and Munna Sazzadul (left), Shelter Project Assistant, visit families during a shelter emergency response in Kutupalong Camp.

Responsible for 7,000 households in the camp, Medair’s shelter team—made up of Medair staff and Rohingya volunteers—was out every day, visiting families, and offering support for repairs. The team gave special attention to more vulnerable families.

Later in the day, with menacing clouds gathered overhead, the team checked in on Amina.* When they arrived, it was apparent she was in need of urgent help.

Her home is built at the bottom of a slope,” noted Esteban. “The rain has triggered a landslide and the back of her shelter is damaged.”

Looking around her shelter, with no back wall and mud covering the floor, she told us, “My husband died in Myanmar. Now I live here alone with my daughter. With this rain, we can no longer stay in this shelter.”

The team assessed the damage and carefully decided what materials were needed to make the repairs. Within 24 hours, materials will be provided and repairs underway. Soon, Amina and her daughter, who temporarily found refuge in Amina’s sister’s shelter, will be able to move back in.

Amina stands in her shelter in Kutupalong Camp, while a Medair team assesses damages caused by heavy rain.

After completing their assessment of Amina’s shelter, the team continued their visits, walking up muddy stairs and through narrow pathways to reach another family. A few weeks prior, one of Medair’s Rohingya Community Volunteers alerted us to Nurul’s* situation: he and his five children are blind. Only Nurul’s wife, Yasmin,* can see.

“They are suffering even more,” the volunteer told us.

As our team sat with the family, Yasmin shared her story, “We fled our home within minutes, we didn’t have time to take anything with us—just the clothes we were wearing. For several days, we hid in villages near the border. I had no idea where we were going, I just knew we had to get as far away as fast as possible. It was very stressful, because I also had to guide my husband and my children as they can’t see. We were all very scared.”

After several days, they eventually arrived in Bangladesh, distressed and exhausted. The only hope they could cling to was that they would be able to go home as soon as possible. Yet, two years on, they are still unable to return home.

“We have lost everything,” says Abul,* one of Nurul and Yasmin’s neighbors in the camp who stopped by to visit the family. “I had a house, cattle, crops. I have nothing left. And look at our children!” He points to a group of teenagers gathered at the door. “Back home, they went to school. They loved to study. Today, they no longer have access to education.” He remains silent for a few seconds before adding, “Why did this happen to us?”

Dark clouds gather over Kutupalong Refugee Camp, a reminder of how vulnerable the camp is during monsoon season.

Sitting with them and listening to their story, there are no easy answers to give. Amina, Nurul, Yasmin, and Abul are among one million Rohingya refugees currently living in Bangladesh, desperately hoping to return home. Their lives have been put on hold, and it is unclear when they will be able to resume them. With each passing day, it becomes increasingly difficult to remain hopeful.

Until that day comes, we must continue standing with them and doing whatever we can to help them survive this very challenging time. What we provide is not a long-term solution; a safe shelter does not resolve their situation. But it does provide them with a little breathing room. Nurul, Yasmin, their children, and many others like them now have completed shelters that protect them from punishing and unforgiving weather. And among their many concerns, a safe shelter is one less thing to worry about.


*Names have been changed for security purposes

 

Medair is an international humanitarian NGO providing emergency relief and recovery services to families made vulnerable by natural disasters, conflicts and other crises. Currently, Medair is active in 10 countries. In Bangladesh, Medair works in partnership with World Concern.

This content was produced with resources gathered by Medair field and Global Support Office staff. The views expressed herein are solely those of Medair and should not be taken, in any way, to reflect the official opinion of any other organization.