Work of Catholic Relief Services among Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh

The following comes from a CRS worker in Bangladesh

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

I send this from the very southeastern Bangladesh border, where refugee settlements are filling with thousands of people by the day as they flee devastating conflict in Myanmar. At the Shabrang Harbor early this morning, just as the sun was coming up, small boats, filled to the brim with families, came into view. Mothers were trying to hold onto their children, and adults carried elderly family members too weak to walk. People asked for any form of food — a piece of bread, a banana. They were exhausted and had clearly gone through so much to get here.

At the harbor and even across the sprawling refugee camps, the mood feels unexpectedly quiet. It’s as if people are still wrapping their minds around the significance of what happened back home, while finding their way here. The targeted attacks that the Rohingya—a minority group in Myanmar—refugees have endured have been recently described by the United Nations as ‘textbook ethnic cleansing.’ The families I meet describe it more in moments of time: running for their lives as petrol was poured on their houses before being set alight; hiding for days and nights in the forest, begging their children to keep quiet; crossing streams in the dark and holding their breath under water at any sound; losing loved ones along the way (asking me if I know if they are here in the camp, perhaps?), and longing to be together with their family in whatever shelter they can create in this new place.

More than 600,000 Rohingya refugees have arrived in Bangladesh—since August. The area of the sprawling, intertwined camps was just greenery and hillside back in July. It’s here where Caritas Bangladesh, CRS’ key partner for decades in the country, is providing truly life-saving relief – currently to 70,000 people. First and foremost, we are providing a two-month food supply to families. Our support will expand per needs on the ground, and likely prioritize safe shelter, clean water and sanitation, and dignified camp infrastructure.

But, what will happen in the long-term is unknown. It is unclear whether these families will have a safe option to return home, which is what most say they prefer, or if they will be able to support themselves and build a life here. But, for now, people express relief to have a safe place to sleep and food to eat. Their children can make noise here. And, life goes on: A refugee and midwife, with whom I spent an entire day, has delivered four newborns since arriving in August. “When I see a new life come into the world, I feel it is a gift from God,” she told me. And, on the other side of the camp is a growing cemetery, where a woman I met had recently buried her father-in-law.

I share this with you to thank you for all that you do, and a to let you know how much your support makes a difference in people’s lives and in backdrops like this. I only wish you could be here, too – to meet these families and hear their voices, and so they could also meet you and know there are people out there who are aware of their situation, and who might be thinking of and praying for them at this turning point in their lives.

I share these two short video clips below from the past couple of days:

Please keep the Rohingya people, and the Bangladeshi people supporting them, in your thoughts and prayers.