Bangladesh + 1 more

UNHCR Bangladesh Operational Update, 25 August 2017 - 20 February 2018


During the Security Council briefing on Myanmar held in New York on 13 February 2018, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, stressed that the restoration of rights is key for refugees’ voluntary, safe, and sustainable return to Myanmar.

UNHCR continues advocating for the rights and safety of some 5,300 people living in a so-called no man’s land at the border between Myanmar and Bangladesh, emphasising the importance of free and voluntary decisions on their future.

UNHCR began relocating the first 50 families living in one floodprone area of Kutupalong to a new and safer part of the settlement. They will be among 381 households who will be relocated over the next week. Other families will be relocated by IOM.


  • 688,000* Estimated new arrivals in Bangladesh since 25 August 2017

  • 212,000* Estimated refugee population before 25 August 2017

  • 900,000 Estimated total refugee population currently


  • 220 staff currently working on the emergency compared to

  • 49 prior to the crisis. 144 are national staff

  • 23 partners compared to 7 prior to the crisis


  • USD 83.7 million Requested for UNHCR’s initial emergency response from Sept 17 to Feb 18. Out of this amount, USD 26.4 million are the requirements for Jan-Feb 2018:

  • USD 16.5 M Received

  • USD 9.9 M Remaining needs

A Joint Response Plan, covering the period from March to December 2018, is under preparation.

* As reported by the Inter-Sector Coordination Group.

Arrival trends

Some 688,000 refugees have fled Myanmar to Bangladesh since 25 August 2017. Over the past months, the number of refugees arriving in Bangladesh has decreased, with over 24,000 arrivals in November 2017 and more than 3,000 in December 2017. Nevertheless, refugees continue to arrive from Myanmar, with some 2,166 new arrivals so far in February 2018, which brings the number to over 4,000 arrivals this year alone. 1 Many refugees have cited their main reasons for flight as fear for their safety and security, arbitrary arrests, and restrictions on movement and livelihoods.

Refugees have settled in Cox’s Bazar District, mainly in Kutupalong and Nayapara settlements.
Kutupalong is more hosting more than 586,000 refugees, making it the world’s largest refugee settlement. This settlement can be compared to city, with a population equivalent to Glasgow (UK) but an area 12 times smaller. While the Government of Bangladesh, with the support of UNHCR and its inter-agency partners has mounted a significant response in the past six months, conditions remain overcrowded and precarious.

Right of return

On 23 November 2017, the governments of Myanmar and Bangladesh signed a bilateral ‘arrangement’ on the return of refugees to Myanmar. This agreement outlines important commitments by both governments to ensure the voluntary, safe return of refugees to their place of origin in Myanmar, and it contemplates UNHCR participation in the process. Although not a party to the bilateral arrangement,
UNHCR stands ready to engage with both Governments to ensure that international standards of safety and voluntariness are respected if and when repatriation takes place. Preserving the right of return and pursuing the conditions that would enable it to be exercised must remain a central priority. UNHCR has made clear that the implementing modalities of the agreements between Bangladesh and Myanmar must be in line with international standards.

During the Security Council briefing on Myanmar held in New York on 13 February 2018, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, referring to the bilateral ‘arrangement’ signed by the Governments of Bangladesh and Myanmar last November on the return of refugees to Myanmar, reiterated that conditions are not yet conducive to the voluntary repatriation of refugees. He stressed that the restoration of rights is key for their voluntary, safe and sustainable return. He called for unhindered humanitarian access in the northern part of Rakhine State and the implementation of the recommendations of the Rakhine Advisory Commission (RAC), stressing that UNHCR’s offer to support to both governments in finding sustainable solutions for refugees remains open.

Some 5,300 people have been living near the Tombru canal, in a so-called “no man’s land”, at the border between Myanmar and Bangladesh since the end of August 2017. In the course of a UNHCR monitoring visit some representatives of this group indicated their fear of returning home and their wish to seek safety in Bangladesh. UNHCR has reiterated that everyone has a right to seek asylum and that people who have fled violence must be guaranteed safety and protection. Any decision to return must be informed and voluntary.

With discussions on returns regularly being reported in the media, refugee communities in Kutupalong,
Nayapara, and Chakmarkul remain anxious about their future. Over the past months, refugees have frequently reiterated that they will not consider going back to Myanmar unless questions of citizenship, legal rights, access to services, justice, and restitution are addressed.