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Bangladesh experiences massive influx of refugees fleeing escalating violence in Myanmar

As part of our emergency humanitarian response, Action Against Hunger provides psychosocial support to refugees from Myanmar. Photo: Action Against Hunger, Bangladesh

An outbreak of violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine State that began on August 25th is causing large numbers of people to flee across the border into Bangladesh, with numbers increasing daily. An estimated 123,000 refugees uprooted by heavy fighting have crossed the border into Bangladesh in the last 11 days. An estimated 40,000 refugees have been reportedly waiting at the border for days in temporary shelters. The majority of these people are extremely vulnerable and in urgent need of humanitarian assistance.

“We are working to respond to the alarming number of refugees crossing into Bangladesh. We are scaling up as fast as we can, adapting our response and mobilizing teams and resources to assist people as soon as they arrive. We are extremely concerned. To put it simply, in just 11 days, an influx of 120,000 people could overwhelm any system,” said Action Against Hunger’s Country Director for Bangladesh, Nipin Gangadharan.

On August 25th, the violence forced the international humanitarian organization Action Against Hunger to suspend its health and nutrition program in Northern Rakhine State, leaving 9,000 children and 1,475 pregnant women and nursing mothers without humanitarian assistance.

Action Against Hunger has seen a significant increase of refugees in Cox’s Bazar in southeastern Bangladesh, one of the areas where the aid agency delivers humanitarian programs. The majority of new refugees arriving in Cox’s Bazar are women and children; many of them are traumatized, undernourished, and in need of immediate assistance. Action Against Hunger is conducting emergency planning to anticipate needs and providing essential, life-saving services for up to 120,000 refugees.

Humanitarian agencies have limited access to the border and to children and mothers awaiting entry, which makes this population extremely vulnerable. There is an immediate need for the cessation of violence in Rakhine State, reportedly from both sides, to limit any further displacement of communities. Current estimates indicate that in the last 11 days, the influx of refugees is on par with number of people who have fled across the border into Bangladesh from Myanmar over the last 10 months, since the last displacement crisis in October 2016.

This recent and unprecedented increase of refugees is creating a critical humanitarian emergency in the affected region of Bangladesh at a time when the country is still struggling to recover from massive flooding and other natural disasters. The speed at which this refugee crisis has escalated in Bangladesh is straining the humanitarian system.

To date, Action Against Hunger is strengthening its capacity to respond and is ready to mobilize resources to meet the urgent needs of refugees. Since 2014, Action Against Hunger has been meeting the needs of refugees in Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh, not only in official UNCHR camps in Kutupalong and Nayapara, but also in the informal refugee settlement of Kutupalong. The organization is prioritizing programs to prevent and treat acute nutrition, improve health and care practices for mothers and pregnant women, and to deliver safe water, sanitation and hygiene  assistance to 167,000 refugees already hosted in Bangladesh—and to families in host communities.

The humanitarian response to the influx of refugees into Bangladesh will require leveraging additional resources immediately to maintain the scale and to expand services to vulnerable populations. Action Against Hunger calls for immediate additional funding to meet the urgent, basic survival needs of vulnerable populations.

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