The Catholic Agency for Justice, Peace and Development

On hope, fear and journeying to Bangladesh

Photo: Mark Mitchell

A blog by Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand's Mark Mitchell on 25 May 2018

Prior to settling at Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, Mrs Akter had a prosperous life in Myanmar where she raised cattle and livestock and cultivated 30 acres of land. Her family owned a house with 5 cattle, 3 goats, chickens, and grew potatoes, chillies, nuts and rice. She was able to make enough profit from her produce and animal products to afford the school fees of her three children.

Mrs Akter’s life drastically changed amid violence. Her house was burned down, and two local youth were killed during a series of shootings.

To protect the safety of their three young children, Mrs Akter and her family undertook a treacherous five-day journey crossing hills and dense forests. They traveled with nothing other than a water pot. For food, they ate dried fruit and fried rice powder.

When they finally reached Bangladesh, much of the camp infrastructure was being built. Mrs Akter and her family slept outside, under open sky, for 7-10 days.

Initially the Akter family was not able to register for the camp, which means no support for shelter, food, water or health services.

It was not until days later that the family was able to register to receive cooked meals and tokens to receive food and water.

Eight months have passed since the Akter due to violence in Myanmar.

Because of assistance from the aid community they have cooking kits, shelter training and tools to build, food supplies and gas/burners to cook and keep warm (supplied by Caritas).

Camp life is still difficult without vital nutrients and accessible food/items in their previous life. Food distribution happens twice a month and is often oil, rice and plant-based protein.

Mrs Akter longs for vegetables, eggs, diverse proteins, onions and fish but Mr Akter works as a day labourer and is only able to afford enough for clothes for their children.

With the arrival of cyclone and monsoon season, the Akters and many others are facing new risks. The current position of the Cox’s Bazar refugee camp is highly susceptible to floods. Last year’s floods in Bangladesh demonstrated an overall lack of preparedness.

Key learnings from the government have been to reinforce homes and seek higher ground. But the refugee camp lies on low ground and does not have materials to reinforce homes/shelters. In fact, some families may not have formal shelters.

While NGOs have helped to relocate approximately 15,000 families, many more are still threatened by high winds and flooding.

However, there are no other areas to relocate families and no available high-ground. Mrs Akter told our Humanitarian Programmes Coordinator, “[we’re] afraid for shelter…with strong winds [it] will destroy homes.”

Mrs Akter tells us, for now “[we] feel safe here…life is difficult, many shortages, but [has] community.” Currently the Akter family is sharing a shelter with others from their village.

In the immediate future, Mrs Akter hopes her “children [are] happy, able to go to learning centres [and] feel safe.” The story of the Akter family is just one of many.

Initial needs assessments have found that tarpaulins (for shelter), bedding, warm clothes and blankets are among the top needs. Of concern is water quality and sanitation.


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Tutu ana te puehu - Stirring up the dust