Refugees forced to fight for aid supplies

Rohingya refugees climbing a truck to receive aid from local organisations at the Balukhali Makeshift Refugee Camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, last Thursday. While local volunteers have been helping with handouts for refugees, the chaotic distributio
Rohingya refugees climbing a truck to receive aid from local organisations at the Balukhali Makeshift Refugee Camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, last Thursday. While local volunteers have been helping with handouts for refugees, the chaotic distribution method still makes it impossible to ensure aid reaches everyone.PHOTO: REUTERS

KUTUPALONG (Bangladesh) • Every day, Ms Sunabhan joins thousands of other Rohingya refugees by the roadside near her settlement in southern Bangladesh waiting for aid trucks to arrive and readying herself for the desperate scramble for food.

Like most of the refugees who have flooded into Bangladesh in the past three weeks, she relies entirely on handouts from local volunteers operating with no official oversight and little coordination.

On Saturday, Ms Sunabhan, a widowed mother of four, managed to fight her way through the scrum of hungry refugees near the camp in Kutupalong and grab a bag of rice flakes. But, often, the 44-year-old goes away empty-handed. "There are more people than food so it is very chaotic," she said. "The strong ones run to the trucks and they get the food first, it is more difficult for women and children."

The United Nations last week said there was an urgent need for a coordinated response to the massive influx of desperate people, most of whom have still had no assistance from aid agencies or the state.

Ordinary Bangladeshis have stepped into the breach, filling trucks and driving to the new settlements. But their distribution methods make it impossible to ensure aid reaches those who need it most.

Each time a truck pulls up, the refugees scramble to grab the food parcels, water bottles and clothing the volunteers throw into the desperate crowd.

At times, fights break out; at others, children who have clambered up the sides of vehicles are swept onto the street when the trucks suddenly speed off.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 17, 2017, with the headline 'Refugees forced to fight for aid supplies'. Print Edition | Subscribe