November 19, 2019

The Refugee Camp That's Becoming a City

“From the top of a viewing tower in Cox’s Bazar District in southern Bangladesh, bamboo and blue-green tarpaulin constructions sprawl in every direction, as far as the eye can see.

The Kutupalong camp is home to more than 600,000 Rohingya Muslim refugees, crowded into a temporary city spread across five square miles. They live in fragile, improvised shelters, with nothing but the possessions they fled Myanmar with. Another 300,000 Rohingya refugees live in comparable squalor in satellite settlements and camps to the south, on a peninsula adjoining the Naf River that divides Bangladesh and Myanmar. A warren of passageways dissects the vast Kutupalong camp, revealing its unplanned nature; the settlement sprang up organically around the refugees as they fled to Bangladesh in late 2017.

But in a small area of open space known as Camp 4 Extension, aid workers are busy designing and creating what could become the future for the refugees. On a rare unpopulated plot of land, several new two-level prototype bamboo and steel frame homes sit, awaiting approval from the Bangladesh government.

“We have been able to really create a settlement that is a top international standard,” says Marin Din Kajdomcaj, head of operations and sub-office for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Cox’s Bazar. “I am humbly saying it’s fantastic.””

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