Monsoon and cyclones threaten refugees | Mission East

Monsoon and cyclones threaten refugees

Eight-year-old Nasima has survived a massacre and a boating accident. Now she is threatened by the monsoon. Photo: World Concern

Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees from Myanmar live in makeshift camps in Bangladesh. Now that the monsoon season is starting, they are at risk of storms, floods and epidemics.

By Kim Wiesener, Communication Manager, June 2018

Recently, Nasima lost all her closest relatives. She, her three siblings, their parents and her grandmother were crossing the Naf River between Myanmar and Bangladesh when their crowded boat was struck by a big wave and capsized. Only 16 of the 76 Rohingya refugees onboard survived.

The eight-year-old girl was on the verge of drowning when she managed to grab hold of an object floating in the water. It turned out to be the body of her dead grandmother, who in that way – after her death – saved Nasima's life.

Nasima now lives with her uncle and aunt in Kutupalong refugee camp in Bangladesh. She seems like a happy girl, but her smile disappears when she talks about her family. She recounts having nightmares in which her mother haunts her and asks for her sister. Nasima made a futile attempt to rescue her sister when the wave struck.

New disaster looming

After surviving a massacre in her hometown and capsizing on the border river, Nasima is threatened by yet another disaster. So are hundreds of thousands of other Rohingyas. The monsoon and cyclone season has begun, and with it, devastating storms and floods.

Refugee camps like Kutupalong are particularly vulnerable to the whims of nature because many of the so-called tents consist only of bamboo sticks and tarpaulins. These makeshift homes are at risk of being destroyed by the severe weather that will also affect health clinics and toilet facilities and pollute the water supply. The refugees in the overcrowded camp will be particularly vulnerable to contagious diseases during the monsoon season.

This underlines the importance of the work done by Mission East's partner, Medical Teams International (MTI). Since the autumn of 2017, when the refugee flow from Myanmar to Bangladesh increased dramatically, MTI has prevented epidemics among the Rohingyas by training them in hygiene, treating cases of diarrhea and setting up health clinics.

MTI is preparing to increase its efforts in the weeks ahead when the monsoon rages and to be ready when cyclones strike. That work can make a significant difference to Nasima and many other Rohingya refugees who have already faced terrible ordeals.