Since August 2017, over 700,000 Rohingya refugees have fled from Myanmar into Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, increasing the total number of refugees present in the district to an estimated 860,69711 . Within two months of the first arrivals, the refugee population in Cox’s Bazar district had quadrupled, which made it one of the fastest growing refugee crisis in the world at the time. The influx continued over the subsequent months with more refugees arriving by foot and by boat. Most of them arrived from Myanmar without taking their belongings or cash, while others reportedly fled only wearing their clothes, and without the means to buy anything else. Half of the refugees (nearly 51%) are children under the age of 18 years.
UNHCR was among the first of the many humanitarian organizations to respond to the refugee influx through the provision of life-saving assistance. Distributions consisting of blankets, plastic sheets, sleeping mats, family tents, plastic rolls, kitchen sets, jerry cans and buckets initially reached 250,000 refugees within weeks after their arrival. This year, from January to the end of July, UNHCR has distributed 933 Core Relief Item (CRI) kits to newly arrived refugee families - each kit containing tarpaulins, a kitchen set, blanket, a jerry can, a bucket, sleeping mats and a solar lamp.
Up until December 2018, 90,569 families had also received an Upgraded Shelter Kit (USK) consisting of mulli-type2 and borak-type3 bamboo poles, rope, plastic tarpaulins, sandbags and toolkits, meant to reinforce their shelters during the harsh monsoon season. In 2020, as of July, UNHCR has distributed shelter repair items and provided shelter replacement assistance for 18,117 households, and distributed Tie-Down Kits4 (TDK) to 87,795 households.
UNHCR has almost fully replaced the distribution of compressed rice huscks (CRH) with liquified petroleum gas (LPG) in all camps that fall under UNHCR’s agreed inter-agency distribution areas. This has been a big step forward for NFI support with significant cost savings and improvements for the environment as well as the protection environment for refugees. Over 90,000 refugee households were regularly receiving LPG refills through UNHCR’s distribution points by the end of August 2020. Also, over 10,000 host community households are also benefitting from LPG cylinders and refills.
UNHCR, in close collaboration with its partners and other humanitarian actors, continues to support the Government of Bangladesh in responding to the refugee situation in Cox’s Bazar by ensuring relief items are also prepositioned and available to be delivered to the most vulnerable households in a timely manner in case of monsoon or cyclonerelated damage or emergencies.
A Global Distribution Tool was introduced in 2019 to speed up the recognition of beneficiaries at distribution points using biometric data. This system aligns distribution data with the available registration data on refugees from a joint UNHCR-Government of Bangladesh registration process. It has reduced waiting times for refugees and decreased any potential for multiple distributions to the same recipient or household.
This year, the humanitarian situation in Cox’s Bazar has been affected by the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. In Cox’s Bazar, only critical activities approved by the Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner (RRRC) are possible in the camps for the time being. UNHCR continues to provide critical services focusing on Protection, Health, WASH, nutrition, fuel support (LPG) and other non-food items, as well as communication with the community. The COVID-19 restrictions have required changes in the distribution process to ensure the safety of refugees and staff and partners. and the public health situation also made the possibility of needs assessments and post distribution monitoring more challenging.