IUCN Bangladesh takes a #StepWithRefugees: celebrates World Refugee Day at Cox’s Bazar

IUCN Bangladesh along with the UNHCR, has celebrated World Refugee Day 2019 with the displaced Rohingya sheltered in Cox’s Bazar district. Arising a sense of environmental awareness among the refugees was attempted through sports and cultural activities.

Answering the United Nation’s High Commissioner for Refugees’ (UNHCR) call to #StepWithRefugees – a global challenge in solidarity with displaced individuals, IUCN joined the World Refugee Day celebration on 20 June 2019 at Cox’s Bazar District, Bangladesh.

The celebration was organised to honor the courage and determination of those who have been forced to flee their homes because of conflicts. Cox’s Bazar district in Bangladesh is considered the world’s largest settlement camp with an estimated 745,000 Rohingya refugees taking shelter in the area.

The event included a session on IUCN talking about the importance of elephants in the ecosystem, in the context of the ‘Biodiversity conflict mitigation around the refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar District’ project implemented by IUCN and UNHCR. It also included talks on the role of forests, with emphasis on the negative impacts of deforestation. The talks were held at Camp four and attended by 400 members from the project’s Elephant Response Teams (ERTs). The main highlight of the event was the inauguration of an environmental youth club which had 20 members. With IUCN's assistance, the club will conduct environmental awareness and management-related activities within the camps and the host communities.

The one-day event was filled with fun and entertainment for the refugees. The refuges participated in football matches, sack races, and sprints. Participants also engaged in activities such as puppet making, pot breaking, pillow passing, biscuit picking from a rope, and frog jumping. Children also recited Burmese and English poems, as part of a play. In a break with tradition, elder Rohingya women also participated in the games. The event ended with a prize-giving ceremony and a cultural programme. Paul Maccalion, Senior Energy and Environment Officer, UNHCR appreciated the endeavor of gender inclusion through the programme.

‘Many thanks to IUCN to arrange this multidimensional programme taking together the female and children. Hope refugees will apply the learning from here and engage themselves and will encourage their neighbors in environmental awareness activities.’ He said.

Since 2018, UNHCR and IUCN have been partners in the implementation of a project to minimize the conflicts between elephants and refugees in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. The Katupalong of Ukhia in the Cox’s Bazar district is known as a migration corridor for Asian elephants traveling from Bangladesh to Myanmar and vice versa. With the influx of Rohingya refugees from Rakhine District of Myanmar into the area, several conflicts between humans and elephants have been reported. These conflicts resulted in human deaths since September 2017. Through the project, road signs along the elephant migration routes were installed to lessen elephant and human encounters. Elephant Response Teams (ERTs) were organised to oversee human-elephant mitigation options. The project also aims to increase the awareness of the camps on the importance of biodiversity, and forests.

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