Bangladesh: Population Movement - Emergency Plan of Action Operation (EPoA) Update n° 8 (MDRBD018)


Description of the disaster

Since 25 August 2017, extreme violence in Rakhine State, Myanmar, drove over 727,000 people from Rakhine State across the border into Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. Communities have crossed the border before, and Bangladesh has been hosting people from Rakhine since the 1970s. However, the influx in August 2017 has been the largest and fastest in its history. The situation of statelessness imposed over generations has rendered this population seriously vulnerable, even before the severe traumas of this most recent displacement. The number of people from Rakhine inside Bangladesh remains fluid as there is still a flow of population coming from Myanmar and other regional countries.

Over 919,000 displaced people are still living in makeshift camps and other sites. The largest camp (Mega Camp) is the Kutupalong expansion site in Ukhia, hosting more than 610,000 refugees. The situation is also a protection crisis in that the protection needs for the displaced community are very high due to the extreme and systematic violence experienced. About 55 per cent of displaced people from Rakhine state are under 18 years of age. Over 30 per cent of households are classified as vulnerable due to the presence of disabilities, single parents, separated children, or older people. Women and girls account for 52 per cent of the population. The community from Rakhine continues to rely heavily on aid for securing their basic needs. Growing tension between the guest and the host community has been reported.

The surrounding host communities have been also been heavily impacted by the scale and length of the crisis. The total population from Rakhine quadrupled within two months after the August influx (August to October 2017) which has severely impacted the public infrastructure and services in the area. At least 15,000 people from the displaced communities live with host communities, the majority in Sadar and Ramu in Cox's Bazar and in Teknaf. Considering the challenges faced by host communities, their needs, and also with the view of the protracted nature of the crisis, this operation aims to also provide assistance and support to the population living in surrounding areas of camps.

The situation remains severe as the displaced population are facing additional threats. They live in congested sites that impact all aspects of living and are ill-equipped to handle the monsoon rains and cyclone seasons – with alarmingly limited options for evacuation. Many displaced have also expressed anxiety about their future, explaining that while they wish to return, they would not agree to do so until questions of citizenship, legal rights, and access to services, justice and restitution are addressed.

In November 2018, the governments of Bangladesh and Myanmar announced that the repatriation process would start on 15 November 2018. As of April 2019, no repatriations back to Myanmar have taken place due to conditions not being Camp Population (Source: JRP 2019) conducive for return and no concrete evidence that any members of the displaced community are ready to return.
UNHCR has repeatedly stated that conditions in Myanmar are not conducive for any returns and that they will not be able to facilitate the process at this time. However, the proposed repatriation process has caused unease and distress in the camps. Furthermore, in the month of November 2018, there were several strikes with demonstrations in the camp from community members rejecting the attempts for repatriation and presenting the following demands: (1) ensure durable solutions to end the refugee situation; (2) ensure quality education with a standard curriculum; (3) do not change any registration documents; (4) ensure proper treatment; (5) ensure proper safeguarding.

Considering the uncertainty of how the situation will evolve, there are four different scenarios that has been taken into account in updating the operational strategy:

  1. Relocation of a part of the affected population to an island - at least 100,000 people might be relocated.

  2. Repatriation to Myanmar - this is less likely despite the political statements.

  3. Mega camps continuation - this is the current situation and highly probable.

  4. Resettlements in other countries - if it happens, only a small number of people might be affected.