A woman from Myanmar holds a baby and looks back as people around her walk uphill on a muddy path

© AJ Ghani/Bangladesh Red Crescent

In the pouring monsoon rain, a family trudges through the mud on a journey that could be the difference between life and death.

This is the border between Myanmar, also known as Burma, and Bangladesh.

In recent weeks, thousands of people have fled their homes in Myanmar with almost no possessions and entered a country in the grip of terrible floods.

Many more remain stranded in border areas without food, water or shelter.

Hundreds of people from Myanmar, some carrying umbrellas, stand in a muddy field

© K.K. Nayan/ICRC

A recent surge of violence in Myanmar has seen approximately 379,000 people cross the border to Bangladesh in just a few weeks.

Such migration is not new. Since 1993, 400,000 to 500,000 people have fled to the Cox’s Bazar area of Bangladesh from Rakhine state in Myanmar.

But the recent surge in numbers has triggered a severe crisis as people arrive exhausted, dehydrated and without food.

Since December 2016, the British Red Cross has been working with our colleagues in the Bangladesh Red Crescent to provide food, clean water, shelter materials and medical support.

The Red Crescent has increased its response efforts to help another 10,000 new arrivals with emergency food.

Life in makeshift camps

A man from Myanmar carries a bag of relief food on his shoulder

© K.K. Nayan/ICRC

Over 156,000 people are living in makeshift camps in Cox’s Bazar. The poor conditions means the threat of disease looms large.

The Red Crescent is focusing its support on families living in these camps.

They have already provided food to around 75,000 people, as well as other essential items such as water containers and blankets.

“The new residents have come to an area where local resources and public services were already limited,” said Oliver Behn, who heads up British Red Cross work in Asia.

“Basic services, including food, education, health care, water and sanitation, are now under even greater strain. People are facing unbearable conditions.

“Together with our partners across the Red Cross Movement, we are doing what we can to help the new arrivals from Myanmar in this tragic situation.”

Cash grants give extra support

A woman and children from Myanmar hold and eat from small plastic bag of food

© AJ Ghani/Bangladesh Red Crescent

In addition to helping people meet their basic needs for food, water and shelter, the Red Crescent will soon be giving cash grants to the new arrivals.

People can use them to buy extra food for their families in local markets and even to start small businesses so they can earn a living again.

For those who are ill, the Red Crescent has mobile medical teams and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is working with health facilities to improve their services.

The two organisations are also helping people who became separated from loved ones when they fled Myanmar.

Together, they are tracing missing family members and providing ‘safe and well’ messages for families.

Monsoon season causes additional hardship

A woman who fled Myanmar scoops up dirty water from a puddle as a group of children look on

© K.K. Nayan/ICRC

Bangladesh experiences heavy monsoon rains every year. But this year’s rains were coupled with much heavier flooding than usual in many parts of Bangladesh.

“The wet conditions are particularly difficult for those who fled Rakhine with few possessions and are living in temporary shelters,” added Behn.

“We have responded by providing 4,000 tarpaulins to give them some shelter.

“At the same time, many people are emotionally distressed because of the fighting and trauma they have witnessed.

“To help, the Red Crescent has trained 25 volunteers in how to give psychological and emotional support to people in need.”