Refugee Nurul Amin, 35, watches families arrive in the mega refugee camp of Kutupalong, Cox’s Bazar. They are on their way from the UN transit centre to their new homes inside the camp. Photo: Ingebjørg Kårstad/NRC

Cox’s Bazar: The world’s largest refugee settlement

Kristine Kolstad|Published 24. Aug 2018
The mass human exodus that began last autumn from Myanmar to Bangladesh has turned Cox’s Bazar into the world’s largest refugee settlement.

“When the Myanmar military attacked my home, I lost four of my closest family members; my father, my brother, my sister and one of my nephews. Everything I owned was burned down – I’ve lost everything,” says Nurul Amin, 35, a refugee in Cox’s Bazar. He arrived with his family a year ago.

In August of last year, extreme violence erupted in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, forcing hundreds of thousands of civilians to flee their homes. One year has passed, and around 725,000 refugees from Myanmar have sought safety in neighbouring Bangladesh, according to the UNHCR.

The refugee settlement in Cox's Bazaar, Bangladesh, is built on sandy hills where there once used to be forests. The hilly landscape is a challenging area to house hundreds of thousands of refugees. Photo: Ingebjørg Kårstad/NRC

Like Nurul Amin, the majority of refugees in Cox’s Bazar belong to the Rohingya, a Muslim minority group.

Several other people were injured in the attack on his village, so the flight to safety in Bangladesh took 12 long days and nights. They hid for days in the mountains and forest, terrified of the military.

I will not return with my family before we feel completely safe.
Nurul Amin, a refugee in Cox’s Bazar

The fear of returning

Amin feels safer now, but the transition from a comfortable life back home to life in an overcrowded refugee camp has been hard. Work is almost impossible to find and educational opportunities for his four children are limited. Despite these hardships, he is not ready to return.

"I will not return before Rohingyas get citizenship, equal rights, free movement and compensation for the houses they burned down and my land,” he says.

An overwhelming need

In total, around 900,000 refugees from Myanmar are currently sheltering in Bangladesh, and humanitarian organisations are overwhelmed by the vast scale of needs. In addition, more than half of the Rohingya refugees in the camps are children.

The humanitarian emergency worsened at the onset of the monsoon season in June, with heavy rain, high winds, flooding and landslides damaging the refugees’ shelters. Despite the ongoing relocation of people to safer ground, the camps in Cox’s Bazar are still severely overcrowded, with only 10.7 square metres per person. An area expansion is desperately needed to shelter the refugees, but achieving that remains a major challenge in one of the most densely populated countries in the world.

We urgently need to scale up the support. The international community must shoulder more of the enormous responsibility that the Bangladeshi authorities and local communities have taken on, as well as show persecuted Rohingya refugees they are not forgotten.
Jan Egeland, General Secretary of the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC)

Our expert deployment capacity team, NORCAP, have been engaged in Cox’s Bazar since the mass human exodus last autumn. So far, more than 40 relief experts have been deployed, contributing their expertise to areas such as shelter, water and sanitation facilities, education and medical aid. They are supporting the UN and local authorities’ efforts to build latrines multipurpose stalls and where people can wash themselves, give children education and help survivors of rape and sexual violence.

Janoara fled from Myanmar in late August 2017 after the military attacked her village, killed her grandfather and torched her house. She only managed to grab her two sons, Saifula (8) and Mohammed Hossein (3) before running for safety. Photo: Ingebjørg Kårstad/NRC

Single women fear for their safety in the camps

Janoara fled from Myanmar in late August, 2017 after the military attacked her village, killed her grandfather and torched her house. She only managed to grab her two sons, Saifula, 8, and Mohammed Hossein, 3, before running for safety. Her husband had left the country for Bangladesh previously, but she has not been able to find him, so now she takes care of her two sons alone. Being a single mother in the camp is hard, and she is struggling to manage.

“I have not cooked any food for my children today. I do not feel safe enough to go out and collect firewood. I exchanged some food items for fuel, but now I do not have enough to eat.”

Janoara is in touch with family members who stayed behind in Myanmar and they are advising her not to return.

"I am not ready to return before Rohingyas gets citizenship and I can return to my land in safety."