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UNHCR helps flood victims in Bangladesh

News Stories, 29 July 2011

© UNHCR/I.Bayzid
Flooding is an annual hazard for people living in coastal areas of Bangladesh.

COX'S BAZAR, Bangladesh, July 29 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency has distributed aid to hundreds of villagers displaced by floods in the Cox's Bazar region of Bangladesh earlier this month.

In response to an appeal from the local branch of the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society, UNHCR has since last weekend provided 10,000 items of clothing, 650 cooking pots, 1,500 jerry cans 13,000 jugs, glasses, cups and plates, 100 sleeping mats, 200 lanterns and 2,000 pieces of plastic sheeting.

The latest flooding in south-east Bangladesh has forced more than 10,000 people from their homes in the Cox's Bazar and Teknaf districts and affected about half a million in some 200 villages, according to government officials. Floods are an annual threat in coastal areas of the country.

About 200,000 refugees from Myanmar also live in the area, including almost 30,000 in two official camps. These have not been badly affected by the floodwaters but many people in surrounding areas have lost everything.

One of them, a widowed mother of five called Jaleha, said the aid distribution had been most welcome. "We weren't prepared," she said, adding that they had never seen such big floods. "The water came in at night and it swept away all our food and cooking utensils."

Since the rains ceased late last week, people have been returning to assess the damage. "I lost all my books and now I am unable to study," said Aziza, a 20-year-old university student. "I will try to find a job so that I can make enough money to buy new books and continue my studies." But the rains could resume.

UNHCR, meanwhile, is concerned about the annual effects of the weather. "The residents of Cox's Bazar can ill afford to deal with yet another natural disaster. Poverty is increasing at three per cent annually in the district, and malnutrition and unemployment rates are higher than the national average," said Craig Sanders, UNHCR's representative in Bangladesh. "Every disaster washes away the little that the community has saved, making people even more desperate."

By Danita Topcagic in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh




UNHCR country pages

UNHCR in Dubai: First Line Responder in Emergencies

Information brochure about UNHCR's Global Emergency Stockpile located in Dubai.

Emergency Response

UNHCR is committed to increasing its ability to respond to complex emergency situations.

Returnees in Myanmar

During the early 1990s, more than 250,000 Rohingya Muslims fled across the border into Bangladesh, citing human rights abuses by Myanmar's military government. In exile, refugees received shelter and assistance in 20 camps in the Cox's Bazaar region of Bangladesh. More than 230,000 of the Rohingya Muslims have returned since 1992, but about 22,000 still live in camps in Bangladesh. To promote stability in returnee communities in Myanmar and to help this group of re-integrate into their country, UNHCR and its partner agencies provide monitors to insure the protection and safety of the returnees as well as vocational training, income generation schemes, adult literacy programs and primary education.

Returnees in Myanmar

Rohingya Refugees in Bangladesh

In 1991, some 250,000 refugees from Myanmar's Northern Rakhine state fled by boat and on foot to neighbouring Bangladesh, where they were sheltered in 20 camps in the Cox's Bazar district. While the majority of these refugees eventually returned home, some 20,500 people – mostly Rohingya, a Muslim minority ethnic group – remain in two of the original camps.

Conditions in these camps are below standard, with many refugees living in overcrowded shelters in desperate need of repair. Frequent heavy rains inundate the area, further damaging shelters and spreading disease. Harassment and discrimination add to the plight of the Rohingya refugees, the majority of whom say that they do not want to return home until there is peace and democracy in Myanmar.

The UNHCR has expanded its routine protection monitoring in Cox's Bazar to address the problems of sexual and gender-based violence as well as trafficking of women and children. The UN refugee agency continues to work with governments, other UN agencies and non-governmental organisations to try and find a durable solution for the Rohingya refugees.

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Rohingya Refugees in Bangladesh

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Some 240,000 Urdu-speaking Biharis spent decades living in appalling conditions in squalid settlements in Bangladesh. They were not recognized as citizens and had little hope of a normal life.

The plight of the Biharis, whose ancestors moved to Bangladesh from India following the 1947 partition of the subcontinent, stems from the separation of Bangladesh from Pakistan in 1971. While many Bihari Urdu speakers subsequently relocated to Pakistan, up to 300,000 remained in Bangladesh. For many years, their legal rights as citizens were not recognized. Many lived in camps and open settlements and were, as a consequence, often denied access to education and had difficulty finding work.

In 2008, the High Court in Dhaka ruled that the Urdu speakers were nationals of Bangladesh. The government registered the adults as voters in time for the December 2008 general election and issued them with national ID cards.Today they remain a linguistic minority in need of better housing and employment opportunities.

There are an estimated 12 million stateless people in the world. Many are effectively trapped in legal limbo, often with limited enjoyment of human rights.

Statelessness in Bangladesh: The Biharis

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Bangladesh: Rohingya Refugees

Living in limbo for years has pushed some Rohingyas to risk everything in search of a better life.
Bangladesh: A Life On HoldPlay video

Bangladesh: A Life On Hold

The story of Noor Jahan, a refugee from Myanmar. Noor Jahan fled from Myanmar in 1992 and found shelter in Bangladesh. Camp life has always been hard, but recent improvements have made her family's life a little easier.