Finding Safety Together: Rohingya Refugees, Local Villagers, IOM, Partners Join Forces with Bangladesh Authorities to Prevent Disaster

Posted: 
06/01/18
Themes: 
Disaster Risk Reduction, Humanitarian Emergencies, Rohingya Crisis

Cox’s Bazar – As Rohingya refugees and local residents in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, learn how to prepare for monsoon disaster scenarios, the UN Migration Agency has been rolling out vital supplies to help them in their life-saving efforts.

Radios, megaphones, first aid kits, stretchers, protective clothing, warning flags and sirens are among the items being distributed among over 500 Rohingya emergency volunteers in the Kutapalong/Balukhali extension, also known as the ‘megacamp’. In addition, almost 1,000 volunteers from the host community have received similar emergency “toolkits” in the Teknaf area, in the south of Cox’s Bazar.

Almost one million Rohingya refugees are sheltering under tarpaulins in Cox’s Bazar after fleeing waves of brutal violence in Myanmar. Now a new threat to their lives looms on the horizon in the form of cyclones and monsoon storms.
Most of the refugees are living on steep sandy slopes. Studies by IOM and other agencies found around 200,000 people will be in serious danger from landslides and floods when the worst weather hits.

But people living in the region suffered the deadly impacts of cyclones and monsoon landslides, even before the arrival of almost 700,000 people in just six months dramatically altered the topography of the area, making it even more vulnerable to environmental disasters.

The Bangladesh authorities in conjunction with the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society and American Red Cross have been training local residents in cyclone preparedness programmes (CPP) since 1972. Now, with the support of IOM and other partners, those skills are being shared with the refugees, such as Laila, a 25-year-old Rohingya mother of two, who is among those tasked with saving others in emergency events.

Sitting in her shelter in the heart of the Balukhali camp, Laila shows off some of the equipment she recently received from IOM. She is among 650 Rohingya and local volunteers whom IOM has also supported to receive training in first aid, search and rescue, and fire safety through partnerships with the Bangladeshi Fire Service and Civil Defence (FSCD), American Red Cross and CPP.

“I feel much more confident after my training and now I have these items to help me,” said Laila, who added she had never been involved in any kind of volunteer project before coming to Bangladesh.

One of Laila’s main tasks is to lead her most vulnerable neighbours to ‘safe havens’ – buildings and shelters strong enough to stand up to stormy weather. Pregnant women are a major concern.

“Three of my neighbours are pregnant. I have to be able to respond immediately. I am happy to be able to look after pregnant women in particular. I am a woman and a mother myself, so I can understand what they are thinking and feeling in these dangerous situations,” says Laila.

As well as looking after pregnant women during emergencies, Laila has also learned how to teach her neighbours how to make their shelters more secure against bad weather. Other refugees participating in the emergency response training projects are gaining different skills, including first aid, early warning, and search and rescue.

Across the region, IOM and other agencies are on standby to support the Bangladesh authorities to help keep vital access open and provide medical and other essential services in the event of a disaster.

But when emergencies strike, it is the people on the ground who will often be the first responders. That is why IOM is supporting the local community, as well as the refugees, with emergency response equipment.

“It’s all about the preparedness of the volunteers. Now they can spread their knowledge among others and work to reduce the suffering of affected people,” said Rafael Abis, Site Management Area Coordinator, IOM.

In the Teknaf area, there are almost 1,000 CPP volunteers from the local community, around one third of whom are women, ready to respond to emergencies.

IOM has now provided them with equipment including bicycles, radios, megaphones, hand sirens, stretchers, warning flags, rain coats, gum boots and first aid kits to support them in the months to come.

“The volunteers had needed the equipment for a long time and now IOM is with us to provide the support,” said Hafiz Uddin, Deputy Director, CPP, Cox’s Bazar District at the recently held toolkit handover programme in Teknaf.

Upazila Executive Officer (UNO) Md. Rabiul Hasan told the participants, “Take proper care of these tools and equipment, as these are very precious for us.”

The process needs to be owned by participants and a strong monitoring mechanism should be in place by the CPP for the equipment, he added.

For more information please contact Shirin Akhter in Cox’s Bazar, Email: sakhter@iom.int, Tel: +880 341 52195

  • Rohingya volunteer Laila shows off some of the equipment she recently received from IOM which will allow her to take part in emergency response activities during monsoon. Photo: IOM