Bangladesh: Displaced within the world’s largest refugee camp

Sazida is cooking food for the extended family, while her husband, Mohammed Rafik, is busy with routine chit-chat with neighbours. Sazida’s in-laws are out to pick up their share of regular relief aid from the nearby distribution point within the fenced area. This is a stark reminder of the reality and why this late afternoon, that may seem to be a day like many others in Cox’s Bazar, is also a place where nothing is as usual, being home to the world’s largest refugee camp complex.

Shaded from the burning sun, Sazida’s daughters Rashni (8) and Saika (4) are playing with their infant sister Joynab (8 months). They are still adjusting to their new shelter and home in Camp 8 West in Cox’s Bazar. This time, however, the change is for the better and has allowed them to improve their lives despite being displaced from their home country, Myanmar, visible in the distant horizon where the mountain peaks are seen.

Sazida’s family fled from Myanmar in August 2017, when there was a crackdown with violence and persecution targeting the Rohingya – a Muslim minority from Myanmar. Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya fled to seek protection and safety in Bangladesh where they were received and have been hosted since then.

Rashni was the only child that Sazida and her husband had at the time. It took them four days to reach Cox’s Bazar from Maungdaw from where they fled with other relatives and neighbours.

The chaos and panic in the crowds fleeing for their lives and separated the small family from their relatives. At Camp 26 in Cox’s Bazar, Sazida, Rafik, and Rashni were allocated a basic shelter made from bamboo sticks and tarpaulin. They soon heard news of their relatives who had sought refuge at Camp 8 West. In the years that followed, Sazida gave birth in Cox’s Bazar to two more girl children.

In January 2021, their world changed, Sazida tells, as this was when her husband had an accident: ‘It felt as if the entire sky dropped on my head.’

It happened when Rafik was at the market in the camp. He was inside a tomtom (small van for transport) when a minibus struck it. It caused him severe injuries and a fractured leg: ‘We were allowed to leave them camp for emergency medical help. Sazida took me to nearby Chittagong district for treatment with the doctor’s referral. I was unable to move for a long time and thought I would never be able to walk again. After six months, an NGO gave me a wheelchair, and I gradually started to move with it,’ tells Rafik.

This accident not only affected Rafik, but also Sazida and the children.

‘Our main challenge was that it was too hard for us to collect relief aid goods from the centre. It was far from our shelter and with nobody to take care of the children, cook or bring water, and manage daily chores while we continue my husband’s treatment. He required care and medication. I was on my own in this and felt that I was surviving all alone,’ says Sazida.

Change was needed to support her husband’s healing and recovery. Sazida needed help from the family, but they too were living in a camp that is also a fenced-off area, but she decided to discuss the matter with her father-in-law in Camp 8 West.

‘In July 2022, we decided that we would try to be relocated to Camp 8 West where my in-law’s family was. And so, I went to a Camp-in-Charge and applied for permission to visit my in-laws. When this was granted, I went to apply for relocation. That was when I met DRC’s Protection Office at Camp 8 West and asked for help to guide the process,’ tells Sazida.

DRC accompanied her to the authorities in Camp 8 West and after hearing her story, they requested DRC to investigate the situation and prepare a report. Her circumstances were described in the evaluation report and convinced local authorities of the need to start the process of relocation.

‘We tried our best to assist the family to relocate. With the instructions from Camp-in-Charge, we worked with colleagues from the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) to complete the application and permission procedure,’ says DRC Protection Officer Rawnakul Alam.

Shortly after, Sazida and her family moved to Camp 8 West and joined their in-laws there in July 2022.

‘When I first learned of Rafik’s accident two years ago, I cried and worried about his wife and kids. I prayed to Allah. Now that they are close by, I can see my grandchildren playing and my son is improving,’ tells Salamot, the father of Rafik.

Rafik no longer requires a wheelchair. Instead, he walks cautiously while using a stick and is more at ease than previously. Sazida does not need to go for water or to pick up their aid rations since her brother-in-law is now there to assist her with the heavy lifting. The daughters play with their grandfather as new friends.

‘It’s important to make the right decision, but it’s also important to ask for the right assistance. I tried, and together we succeeded. Here, my husband receives the right care, and I no longer have stress and the same worries. I am grateful for my family’s support as well as for DRC and other NGOs who helped with our relocation. My daughters are smiling, and it brings me the most joy right now,’ says Sazida.

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