Myanmar refugees lacking shelter, food and schools – organisations in a hurry to mend the situation before cyclone season

Shortly after they made the perilous crossing from Myanmar into Bangladesh, a woman feeds her child in a clinic for severely malnourished children in the Balukhali Refugee Camp near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. Photo: Paul Jeffrey / ACT Alliance

Organisations are trying to provide refugees from Myanmar with dignified circumstances at refugee camps filled to the brim in Bangladesh. Almost half a million children are in need of education.

”It is unbelievable how densely people have settled in the Kutupalong camp,” says Finn Church Aid education cluster coordinator Kaisa-Leena Juvonen.

Juvonen worked at Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh in October and November. She directed a collaborative education cluster coordination with various aid organisations led by Unicef. Juvonen’s task was to ensure that as many children as possible have access to education.

The experienced aid worker colleagues with her estimated that the scale of the humanitarian catastrophe is comparable to the Haiti earthquake in 2010 or to the Southeast Asia tsunami in 2004.

”There are no roads between the dwellings built of tarpaulins in the wet, muddy and hilly terrain, so delivering aid equipment and building material is a challenge,” says Juvonen.

”The situation is difficult. Resources are small compared to the enormous needs. In addition, the cyclone season is approaching and will hit by April.”

According to the tentative results of a nutrition survey conducted in late October, severe acute malnutrition of children under 5 in the Kutupalong refugee camp has more than doubled since May 2017.

Setting up schools brings immediate relief to everyday life

There are an estimated 453,000 children between the ages of 4 and 18 in the refugee camps. Some of them are already in school. More temporary schools are being built all the time.

”The new sections of the camp will have 45 temporary classrooms built of bamboo and tarpaulin for every 14,000 people. School is attended in three shifts, with a maximum of 50 children per classroom,” says Juvonen.

FCA emergency assistance

Finn Church Aid has granted 100,000 euros to emergency assistance to the refugees in Bangladesh through the ACT Alliance. The funds will be used for food assistance, shelter, non-food items, hygiene kits, water points , latrines, health and nutrition, protection and psychosocial assistance.

”If we manage to build more school facilities later, the class size will be reduced to 35.”

Many of the children in the camps are traumatised after running from violence. Many have lost family members. The situation is especially difficult for the 23,000 children who have arrived alone.

”The children need support and the opportunity to be children, even in the difficult circumstances of the camps. Having access to a safe school environment plays an essential part.”