Children’s lives are threatened by the looming monsoon and cyclone season in Rohingya refugee camps

Following the joint visit of the Parliamentary Friends of UNICEF Australia co-chairs Andrew Broad MP and Senator Lisa Singh to refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar, UNICEF Australia urges the Australian government and public to give more to the Rohingya appeal to ward off risks and dangers for children ahead.
 
SYDNEY, 29 January 2018 - UNICEF Australia said today that the impending monsoon and cyclone season poses worrying increased risks for children from disease, flooding, landslides and further displacement, in Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh.
 
“As we get closer to the cyclone and monsoon seasons, what is already a dire humanitarian situation risks becoming a catastrophe. Hundreds of thousands of children are already living in horrific conditions, and they will face even greater danger between March and October this year,” said Oliver White, Senior Policy Advisor for Forced Migration at UNICEF Australia.

“Unsafe water, inadequate sanitation and poor hygiene conditions can lead to cholera outbreaks and to Hepatitis E, a deadly disease for pregnant women and their babies, while standing water pools can attract malaria-carrying mosquitos. Keeping children safe from disease must be an absolute priority,” Mr White added.
 
Serious preparation for the monsoon season must start immediately, such as moving child friendly spaces to higher ground, capping off some of the existing wells installed since August, repairing fragile structures, and resettling potentially tens of thousands of refugees, said Mr White.
 
The Australian co-chairs of the Parliamentary Friends of UNICEF Australia, Andrew Broad MP and Senator Lisa Singh have just returned from a UNICEF hosted trip to Rohingya refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar, where some 688,000 refugees including 399,000 children have fled to since 25 August 2017. That brings the total number of affected children to 720,000.
 
More than 4,000 suspected cases of the life-threatening respiratory disease, diphtheria, have been reported among the refugee population, with the deaths of at least 24 children. UNICEF and partners have launched a diphtheria vaccination campaign, and are working to provide children and families with access to safe water and sanitation facilities. However, overcrowding and the growing risk of extreme weather increases the risk of further outbreaks.
 
“The Australian government has already been very generous in committing $31.5 million to the humanitarian response so far, but more must be done to head off uncertainty for children particularly in areas such as education and child protection,” said Mr White.
 
“With the mega camps continuing to expand, and repatriation of refugees to Myanmar or permanent settlement in Bangladesh continuing to be unlikely in the short term, the time to act is now.”
 
Last week UNICEF also released a statement saying improved security and unimpeded humanitarian access in Myanmar are essential before Rohingya children can be returned from Bangladesh. Some 58 per cent of the refugees are children, many of whom are still traumatised by their experiences of violence. It is critical that their rights to be protected and cared for, are front and centre of any agreement to return families to Myanmar.  Any such return must be voluntary, safe and dignified.
 
This year globally UNICEF hopes to raise $A178 million ($US144.6 million) for Rohingya refugees, to provide life-saving support, as well as basic social services, with the government of Bangladesh. There is a current shortfall of $A104 million ($US108.5 million.)
 
Note to editors:
  • Oliver White, UNICEF Australia Senior Policy Advisor, Forced Migration and James Nichols, UNICEF Australia Associate Director of Communications are available for interviews
  • B-roll from the Kutupalong and Balukhali refugee camps including interviews with Andrew Broad MP, Senator Lisa Singh and Oliver White are available for download here. 
For more information, please contact:
Charlotte Glennie, UNICEF Australia, 0420 407 886, cglennie@unicef.org.au
 
Additional information about UNICEF’s work in the camps:
UNICEF is one of a range of international and national agencies working alongside the Bangladeshi authorities to provide services and support to the refugee population and nearby host communities. Working with partners, UNICEF has dug hundreds of water-bore wells, installed up to 16,000 toilets, helped immunise nearly a million children and adults against cholera, screened 335,000 children for malnutrition, and provided education for nearly 80,000 children.
 
Even so, waterborne and other diseases are a constant threat in the overcrowded camps, which need to be urgently decongested to ensure basic facilities reach all inhabitants. Currently, up to 100 people must use a single latrine and water supplies often run short.
 
More must also be done to protect vulnerable children from traffickers and other dangers and to provide psychosocial care to those who are still traumatised by the experiences that drove them from their homes. 
 
Learning and recreational spaces for children have been expanded rapidly, but still fall well short of the needs. Nearly 220,000 children are currently deprived of an education.
 
Donors can contribute to UNICEF’s work for Rohingya children at www.unicef.org.au/appeals/help-rohingya-children