Analysis of the context, crisis and needs
Some 860,000 Rohingya refugees reside in 34 congested camps in Ukhiya and Teknaf upazilas4 of the Cox’s Bazar district. The humanitarian community has worked to meet the humanitarian needs of refugees and host communities throughout 2020. The operation pivoted in March 2020 to focus on emergency preparedness and response for the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Government of Bangladesh and the humanitarian community quickly mobilized to mitigate and respond to the anticipated impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. This fast response was key, given conditions in the camps, the high levels of vulnerability among the Rohingya refugees and nearby Bangladeshi communities, and the severe strain placed on the national health-care system.
Activities in the camps were restricted to critical services only. An 80 per cent reduction in the number of humanitarian workers going to the camp each day helped mitigate the spread of the virus. However, the reduced humanitarian footprint restricted the delivery of essential assistance and contributed to a deterioration in the protection environment, exacerbating the vulnerabilities of women, children, older persons and those with disabilities. The Rohingya crisis reflects trends seen around the world during the pandemic: GBV, violence against children and negative coping mechanisms have increased. Child labour, child marriage, trafficking and dangerous onward movements by boat have also risen.
Cox’s Bazar is among the country’s poorest districts, with a total Bangladeshi population of more than 2.6 million. Over the last three years, the Rohingya refugee presence has compounded existing challenges. The massive humanitarian operation has increased employment and economic opportunities, but Bangladeshi host communities have faced adverse consequences for their food security, livelihoods and nutritional status, particularly in Ukhiya and Teknaf upazilas, where the camps are located. Humanitarian and development initiatives have begun to address these impacts in Cox’s Bazar district, but COVID-19 has stretched the capacities of communities and Government institutions, impacting Rohingya refugees and Bangladeshis living nearby.
Projected situation in 2021 and beyond
The humanitarian response is now moving into its fourth year following the massive influx from Myanmar. Rohingya refugees will continue to rely on humanitarian aid to meet their basic needs until durable solutions are possible. The humanitarian community will provide life-saving assistance to Rohingya refugees within a solid protection framework, whil also working to create conditions conducive to voluntary return to Myanmar. In 2021, sustained and strengthened assistance across multiple sectors will be required in areas including food, nutrition, safe water and adequate sanitation, shelter, and access to health care and education for Rohingya refugees and nearby Bangladeshi communities.
The uncertainties of the global COVID-19 pandemic compound the already overwhelming sense of insecurity and trauma faced by Rohingya refugees. The humanitarian community is concerned by an evident deterioration in the overall protection and security environment in the camps, which stems in part from necessary COVID-19-related restrictions on the delivery of essential services and assistance. These are likely to persist into 2021.
Addressing the specific needs of women, girls and vulnerable groups will be critically important. Once the public health situation stabilizes, reopening temporary learning centres and resuming educational programmes will be a key priority to ensure the well-being of refugee children and youth. In nearby host communities, the loss of livelihoods, the breakdown of food production and market systems, and the worsening of food and nutrition indicators will remain challenges next year. The social impacts of the pandemic and increased competition over livelihoods could further undermine cohesion and peaceful coexistence between refugees and host communities.
Rohingya refugees and local Bangladeshis will continue to be highly vulnerable to the impacts of cyclones and monsoon winds and rains. Regular improvements to shelters have been limited during the COVID-19 pandemic. Frequent heavy rains have contributed to the deterioration of shelters in the refugee camps, and the use of more durable materials is needed to ensure the safety and sustainability of households, particularly during the monsoon and cyclone seasons. Building on Bangladesh’s well-established and effective disaster response capacities, the Government and humanitarian partners will work to mitigate risks, enhance community resilience to shocks, and ensure adequate contingency planning and preparedness for cyclones and monsoons.
Response priorities in 2021
The humanitarian community, including NNGOs, INGOs and UN agencies, working across sectors and in close coordination with the Government of Bangladesh, will continue to improve protection and assistance standards for Rohingya refugees and their host communities in the Teknaf and Ukhiya upazilas of Cox’s Bazar. Four strategic objectives will guide the response in 2021 following the pathway established this year:
- Continue to strengthen the protection of Rohingya refugee women, men, girls and boys.
- Deliver quality, life-saving assistance to populations in need.
- Foster the well-being of Bangladeshi host communities in Ukhiya and Teknaf upazilas.
- Work towards achieving sustainable solutions in Myanmar.
A protection framework that recognizes critical protection issues, foresees targeted protection activities, and commits all humanitarian partners to protection and gender mainstreaming will guide the response for Rohingya refugees. It will be implemented in full partnership with the Government of Bangladesh and affected populations.
The humanitarian response will focus on improving living conditions for Rohingya refugees. This includes access to education through the Myanmar Curriculum Pilot and skills development, as well as upgrading shelters and learning facilities to two-storey structures. Another key focus will be enhancing systems for community representation in the Rohingya refugee camps, AAP and promoting social cohesion.
Humanitarian actors will support the Government in strengthening public services and delivery for vulnerable communities in Ukhiya and Teknaf, the areas most affected by the presence of Rohingya refugees. They will also support development planning in Cox’s Bazar district and work to achieve synergies between humanitarian and development assistance.
- Population figures for Bangladesh JRP include refugees, as well as impacted members of host community. Refugee population figures are estimates, calculated using October 2020 figures from ongoing joint Government of Bangladesh-UNHCR registration exercise as well as an estimated number of persons not able to be registered in the course of 2020, due to a slow-down in registration activities during the COVID-19 pandemic. Total population figures will be adjusted during 2021 once registration activities fully resume.