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Rohingya Refugees in Bangladesh Unprotected from Cold Winter Ahead

Rohingya Hindu refugees walk through the Kutupalong Hindu refugee camp near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, Dec. 17, 2017.

The U.N. refugee agency is mounting a multi-million dollar operation aimed at keeping thousands of Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh warm during the winter ahead.

The U.N refugee agency reports on Sunday it will start distributing the first of nearly 200,000 items of warm clothing to help recently arrived Rohingya refugees weather the colder climate ahead.

More than 646,000 Rohingya, fleeing persecution and violence in Myanmar, have arrived in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh since the end of August. The UNHCR says it is worried about their squalid living conditions and lack of protection from myriad risks, including their ability to survive the cooler temperatures in the weeks and months ahead.

UNHCR spokesman, Babar Baloch, said winters in Bangladesh are milder than in other regions. But, he notes temperatures dip low at night and the Rohingya don’t have adequate clothing and shelter to protect themselves.

“Children, who are 55 percent of Rohingya refugee population, are particularly vulnerable. So are the women and they represent more than half of all refugees in Bangladesh. An estimated 10 percent are either disabled or have serious medical conditions or are older persons at risk,” he said.

Baloch said UNHCR is working to improve the quality of shelters in the camps and has distributed thousands of new shelter kits as part of this strategy. He says the refugees also are receiving core relief items, including blankets, kitchen sets and solar lights.

He said UNHCR is distributing cooking fuel composed of compressed rice husks to replace firewood. He says this will protect both children and the environment.

He explained refugee children gathering wood in adjacent forests are vulnerable to attacks and rape. At the same time, he says gathering firewood degrades the environment by stripping back swathes of woodland.