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Women suffer in the world's largest refugee camp

September 6, 2018

In just one year, the refugee camp in Bangladesh has become the largest in the world. The huge refugee camp was built under great time pressure and Oxfam now warns that Rohingya girls and women are suffering abuse and disease in the unsafe camps.

A year has passed since attacks on Rohingya in Myanmar forced hundreds of thousands of people to flee. It has been difficult to keep pace with the rapidly growing refugee crisis: nearly one million Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh due to military operations against them in Myanmar, which the UN has described as 'ethnic cleansing'.

Oxfam's Dorothy Sang, who works in Cox's Bazar, says the camp was rushed and women's needs were not taken into account. "Now women and girls are paying the price with their well-being and safety," Sang said.

The camp is substandard in many ways. There is a lack of lockable toilets and showers, and the roads are poorly lit. Every week, hundreds of cases of gender-based violence are reported.

Oxfam has interviewed Rohingya girls and women in Bangladesh's refugee camps, where more than a third say they do not feel safe or comfortable enough to fetch water or use the camp's toilets and showers. Half of women and three quarters of teenage girls say they have difficulty managing their hygiene during menstruation.

As a result, women go hungry and thirsty to avoid using the toilet, which in turn leads to many suffering from abdominal pain and infections after using unhygienic sanitary pads and avoiding toilet visits. Many also choose to perform their needs at their tents, which increases the risk of spreading disease, especially in the ongoing monsoon season.

Ayesha Khatun and her two daughters are among the women and girls who avoid food and drink to avoid the risks of using the Rohingya camp's toilets. Ayesha Khatun fled to Bangladesh a year ago. She says her husband and son were shot dead outside their home. Today she lives in the refugee camp in Bangladesh with her two daughters.

"We do not go out at night, it is not safe for women. We avoid eating and drinking to avoid using the toilet."

Ayesha.

I am a single parent and have to go out by myself to get food parcels so that we have something to eat, but I hate leaving my daughters alone. Yesterday a three-year-old was kidnapped. I can't lose any more children," says Ayesha.

Oxfam is calling for 15% of funding for the refugee crisis to go towards supporting girls and women.

"For example, lighting is needed to improve security and toilets and washrooms where women's privacy is ensured," says Dorothy Sang.

Oxfam is working with local organizations and refugees to make its humanitarian efforts more effective in supporting girls and women. This includes installing solar lights to illuminate roads, addressing violence against women, distributing solar lights, organizing discussion groups for women, and developing new lockable toilets.