UNHCR Ambassador Cate Blanchett says time is running out for Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh as monsoon season begins
UNHCR Ambassador Cate Blanchett reveals that Rohingya refugees living in flood- and landslide-prone regions of Bangladesh need urgent aid as the monsoon rains begin to fall.
Cate Blanchett, who has been a UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador since May 2016, recently paid a visit to refugee camps in south-eastern Bangladesh, an area that is prone to floods and landslides and is also currently the home to thousands of refugees from the Rohingya community that escaped violence in Myanmar. She said that the safety of over 150,000 refugees was at stake as the deadly monsoon season neared.
Beginning in 2015, nearly 671,000 members of the Rohingya community, a Muslim minority that lived in Rakhine state in western Myanmar, fled to Bangladesh via boat (as well as various other Southeast Asian countries) after the government began supporting violence and terror against the community, with plans for a genocide against the Rohingya people being uncovered in October that year.
An article published on the UNHCR's official website quote Blanchett as saying, "The Rohingya refugees have already experienced targeted violence, human rights abuses, and horrific journeys. They have shown unimaginable resilience and courage," after she visited Nyapara, Kutupalong, and Chakmarkul settlements in Bangladesh.
She added, "But now, as the monsoon season approaches, the Government of Bangladesh, supported by UNHCR and its partners, are in a race against time to ensure the refugees are as safe as they can be to deal with potential floods and landslides," calling for the international community to take immediate action to protect the hundreds of lives potentially at stake.
Blanchett talked to a refugee named Jhura, 28, who had taken her two children and fled six months ago after forces attacked her village. Her bamboo shelter, located on a steep hill, is little protection from the upcoming rains and is in danger of being flattened by a landslide.
She told Blanchett, "The monsoon is coming and I’m scared that the wind will blow away the roof. There are shelters above mine that would fall on us if there is a landslide. The ground will be slippery and I worry that it will be difficult to get about." Jhura was separated from her husband while fleeing, and fears that he is no more.
Jhura revealed that the situation was slightly better, but she still had to deal with the dangers of the monsoon rains. She told Blanchett, "In Myanmar, I was in a better house but I was still in fear of the monsoon - the roof would sometimes fly away and my children would sometimes get sick."
Blanchett also had the privilege of meeting a refugee, Mohammad, who performs self-written poetic songs called 'ghazals' as a means of supporting his family. His songs are based on the harsh realities faced by the Rohingya refugees on a daily basis, and he performed one that described the community's worries about the upcoming rains, singing, "if the rains come and the cyclones attack … what will the world do?"
Blanchett praised the disaster preparation work that was already in progress, saying, "I’ve seen first-hand how UNHCR - with its partners and with the refugees themselves - are working flat out to avoid an emergency within an emergency."
She continued, "Staff are on the ground distributing shelter and pre-monsoon kits to the vulnerable families, reinforcing roads, bridges, steps and other infrastructure that risk being washed away, and relocating families to safer places where land is available. But more is urgently needed to ensure refugees stay safe."
Blanchett called for the international community to aid the Government of Bangladesh in averting a further crisis, saying, "The people of Bangladesh and host communities have been the first to respond to this crisis, supported by agencies like UNHCR and its partners. But I cannot stress how much more help is needed for these vulnerable stateless refugees, the majority of whom are women and children."
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