Fire ravages largest refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar

  • The fire left over 12,000 people homeless, and destroyed over 2,000 homes and an IRC health facility that delivered essential services to thousands of people.
  • It comes in the wake of a major cut in food rations in the camp, a result of a significant decrease in funding for the Rohingya refugee response.
  • The IRC has deployed emergency mobile medical and protection teams to provide vital support to families affected.
Read our March 6 release.

Country facts

  • Total population: 163 million
  • People displaced by crisis: Almost 1 million Rohingya refugees
  • Rank in Humanitarian Development Index : 139 of 188

IRC response

  • Started work in Bangladesh: 2018
  • People assisted: 555,424

Crisis briefing

After fleeing shocking violence in Myanmar, nearly 1 million Rohingya are now living just across the border in Bangladesh in the world’s biggest refugee camp. Despite the welcome they have received, many are now struggling to imagine a future for themselves.

What caused the current crisis in Bangladesh?

Since 2012, violence against minority Muslims in Myanmar has forced hundreds of thousands of people from their homes. Most are Rohingya, now the world’s largest stateless people. In 2017 alone, over 650,000 fled to Bangladesh. The scale of the displacement has created dangerously overcrowded refugee camps where basic services are stretched beyond their limits.

What are the main humanitarian challenges in Bangladesh?

The nearly one million refugees in Cox’s Bazar are living in overcrowded shelters made of bamboo and tarpaulins, many erected on deforested hillsides prone to landslides. These flimsy structures are not able to withstand the heavy rains of the monsoon season, which lasts from May to September.

While Bangladesh is well versed in responding to natural disasters, its capacity is strained by the added burden of hosting nearly one million additional people. With each heavy monsoon the Rohingya face the risk of outbreaks of diphtheria and cholera, as well as emergency levels of malnutrition. Monsoon flooding exacerbates these problems as latrines flood and water sources are contaminated: Dengue fever, hepatitis and diarrhea could sweep through the camps.

Lifesaving aid is urgently needed to assist the Rohingya. Aid organizations do not have adequate resources: Humanitarian partners must scale up their capacity quickly.

How does the IRC help in Bangladesh?

The IRC emergency response in Cox’s Bazar focuses on health, including COVID-19, and the protection of vulnerable women and children. We have established a number of “one-stop shops” where IRC teams work with partners to provide comprehensive care for women and girls, including reproductive and childbirth services and support for those who have encountered violence.

The IRC is also scaling up our work to empower women and adolescent through skills development and raising awareness to prevent gender-based violence. We also have introduced “safe healing and learning spaces” and education programs to help children enhance their social and cognitive skills and cope with the emotional trauma they have experienced.

In addition, the IRC has established mobile medical teams to serve hard-to-reach refugees in the sprawling Kutupalong-Balukhali camp. During the monsoon season these mobile clinics also serve local Bangladeshi communities whose health facilities have been shut down by flooding or landslides.

Staff and Programs

IRC country director Manish Agrawal, an Indian national, is a qualified humanitarian and development professional with over 22 years experience in the humanitarian sector nationally and internationally.

Humayun Kabir Khan, the IRC information officer for Bangladesh, has over a decade of experience in the development sector globally. Email: [email protected]

Read our program impact updates (January 2022) and other publications.

What more needs to be done?

The IRC works in Bangladesh to protect and promote the rights and serve the needs of the most vulnerable through women and children’s health and protection services, and effective response to the needs of people affected by conflict, disaster and poverty.