UN Migration Agency Begins Massive Shelter Upgrade for Rohingya Refugee Camps as Fears of Monsoon Disaster Grow

Humanitarian Emergencies, Refugee and Asylum Issues

Cox’s Bazar – As fears mount for the safety of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh ahead of the impending monsoon season, IOM, the UN Migration Agency, has launched a major roll out of materials to help 120,000 households in camps and local communities make vital improvements to their shelters.

Over 688,000 Rohingya have fled violence Myanmar since late August, with more still arriving every week. They are now living in cramped, precarious conditions on steep and unstable slopes in the Cox’s Bazar area of Bangladesh – mostly in bamboo and plastic tarpaulin shelters that barely protect them from the elements.

Since September 2017, IOM has already reached around 600,000 people through its initial distribution of emergency shelter materials. But with the risk of heavy rains and cyclone winds just weeks away, urgent action is needed to help them to strengthen the shelters and shore up the soil to reduce the likelihood of deadly landslides.

“The monsoon and cyclones are now imminent in Cox’s Bazar. Floods, landslides and strong winds will be a deadly threat for thousands of Rohingya families,” said IOM Cox’s Bazar shelter programme manager Keisuke Kamiya.

“While it will be impossible to provide safe havens for all, we can mitigate the potential damage to people’s living environment by ensuring access to materials and technical support to improve sites and the robustness of the shelters.” 

The shelter upgrade roll out, which began on 3 February and involves multiple aid agencies, reached 3,000 households in the first three days. It includes the distribution of tarpaulins, bamboo poles, ropes, tie-wires and sandbags. Shovels, wheelbarrows, hoes, digging posts and other tools are also being distributed in communities for shared access to help families to level and stabilize land.

Mohammad Harun, 35, a father of six, was among the first refugees to receive one of the new shelter kits on 3 February. “My current home is built with polythene. It lacks proper walls. We’re living with heat in the day and (cold) dew at night,” he said.

Harun, who arrived in Bangladesh four months ago with his wife and children, also attended a demonstration by IOM shelter staff on how to use the new materials and tools effectively.

“Now we’ll be able to re-build our home properly with the new materials. We won’t have to worry it will get blown away by a storm or that we will get drenched when it rains. It’ll also protect us from the winter wind,” he said.

In the coming weeks, staff from IOM’s mobile shelter team will work throughout the refugee community in Cox’s Bazar to provide monitoring and technical support to help people make their shelters better able to withstand wind and rain.

For more information please contact Fiona MacGregor at IOM Cox's Bazar, Tel. +8801733335221, Email: [email protected]

  • A IOM engineer shows Rohingya refugees how to build stronger shelters to withstand upcoming monsoon wind and rain. Photo: Fiona MacGregor / IOM 2018