Jamalida stands with her sister in the shelter that they share with their family in Cox’s Bazar. Photo: Olivia Headon/UN Migration Agency (IOM) 2017

Cox’s Bazar — Jamalida, 18 years old, lives with her sisters and mother in a makeshift settlement in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. Until a few weeks ago, she lived in the country of her birth and the only country that she had ever known, Myanmar. Now, she is a refugee.

“My father was killed on our way here,” said Jamalida timidly, as she stood in her family’s shelter and explained that her mother was out working as a domestic helper to support her and her sisters.

Without any men in the family, the girls and their mother are struggling to make enough to get by. They also find it difficult to go out to aid distributions in the settlement alone. As young women, they do not feel comfortable or safe.

When they arrived in the settlement at the height of the monsoon season, the all-female household had to hire day labourers to build their shelter, which is put together with bamboo and thin, ripped polythene sheet. Without any money of their own, they relied on private donations from Bangladeshis, who are helping many vulnerable families. IOM, the UN Migration Agency, also hires Rohingya refugees to help families like Jamalida’s to build their shelters.

IOM’s team in the makeshift settlement where Jamalida lives searches for families like hers — ones that need extra support. They survey their shelters to check their living conditions. After Jamalida’s shelter was surveyed, the family was given a token that they can exchange for materials to reinforce their new home and protect them from the elements. IOM will also ensure that they have help installing the materials.

An elderly woman cries as she receives shelter tokens. She is taking care of their grandchildren as her daughter had to take one of her other children to hospital. Photo: Olivia Headon/UN Migration (IOM) 2017

A few shelters away lives Romida. Arriving from Myanmar with nothing just over a month ago, Romida and her husband found it tough to build their own shelter. They were not able to make the structure weatherproof with the inadequate materials at hand — again, bamboo and polythene sheet. As a result, the shelter leaks when it rains. At other times it is stiflingly hot. Romida has also been sick from eating unsafe food. The family’s spirit is diminishing, as is their health.

Romida stands with her 13-year-old son in the door of their shelter. Photo: Olivia Headon/UN Migration Agency (IOM) 2017

“This is from a bomb,” said Romida, as she pulled her 13-year-old son close to her and out from the darkness of their shelter to reveal his scars in the unforgiving sunlight.

Talking about the terrors of their life in Myanmar’s Northern Rakhine State, Romida spoke with a longing for their land and the stone house that the family had saved for years to build and spent subsequent years making a home.

Now, seven people — Romida and her husband, their children and the husband of one of their daughters — live packed like sardines in a one room shelter. They have also been given a token that they can exchange for a plastic tarpaulin, rope and other essential household items — a small step towards improving their wretched living conditions.

A 19-year-old mother of six, who arrived four days ago, is provided with shelter material tokens by IOM. Photo: Olivia Headon/UN Migration Agency (IOM) 2017

With over 800,000 Rohingya refugees now living in settlements in Cox’s Bazar, tens of thousands still lack adequate shelter and are looking to aid agencies for help. IOM is distributing shelter materials to new arrivals and is helping vulnerable families living in the worst conditions to make basic improvements to their new homes.

This story was posted by Olivia Headon, the UN Migration Agency’s Information Officer for Emergencies, currently based in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh.