Reflections on my two years as a Jersey JPO in Cox’s Bazar - Faye Coggins

11 June 2024
Faye Coggins, one of our first UN Junior Professional Officers has recently completed her two year placement with UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. Faye shares her thoughts on her time in the camps that are home to almost one million Rohingya refugees.

It’s hard to believe that my time on the Junior Professional Officer Scheme has come to an end, after two years working for UNHCR in Cox’s Bazar Bangladesh.  As an entry point to working with UNHCR, the Cox’s Bazar operation has been an eye-opening and rewarding location to be, and I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to such a critical operation.

Cox’s Bazar is host to approximately one million Rohingya refugees, who have fled violence in Myanmar in successive waves of displacement over the past several decades, constituting the world’s largest refugee settlement. The sheer scale of the response here is mind-boggling – in terms of the number of refugees, the number of NGOs and UN agencies working here, and the range of programmes and services being implemented for the refugees. The challenges in this context are immense; Bangladesh is one of the most natural disaster-prone countries in the world, and since just the beginning of the year, the Rohingya refugee camps have seen several devastating fires and a cyclone which resulted in widespread damage to shelters, latrines, community centres, and unfortunately some fatalities. Moreover, the response is now well into its sixth year, and the protracted nature of the crisis brings new challenges. UNHCR and its partners must look for solutions which promote self-reliance amongst refugees and reduce reliance on humanitarian assistance, whilst equipping refugees with vocational skills training that they can utilise when the conditions allow for their safe and voluntary return to Myanmar.

Whilst return to Myanmar is the ultimate goal and expressed wish of the majority of the Rohingya population, given the escalating conflict in Myanmar, there is no prospect for their return in the short-term. Therefore, more than ever, it is critical that the situation of the refugees in Bangladesh sustains the attention and support of the international community. This is not an easy ask, given reductions in humanitarian funding worldwide and the proliferation of humanitarian crises (Gaza, Sudan and Ukraine) which results in competing priorities for donors.

The support that Jersey Overseas Aid provides to the UNHCR refugee response is quite literally lifesaving, contributing to refugee shelters, health care facilities, and other critical services. Also, the support that Jersey Overseas Aid provides to refugee operations (in Bangladesh and others) extends beyond financial contributions; they also play a crucial role in raising awareness around refugee issues, and the importance of international solidarity with stateless populations. I’m very excited to be taking part next month in the launch of a photo exhibition hosted by Jersey Overseas Aid, displaying the work of a collective of refugee photographers called the ‘Rohingyatographers’, based in the heart of the Cox’s Bazar camps. The exhibition aims to shed light on the resilience, identity, and experiences of the Rohingya people, and to give a voice to this stateless population. It provides a unique opportunity for Jersey residents to visualize the situation of the Rohingya refugees, and I very much look forward to being a part of it!

Next steps

Whilst this will be my last blog as a Jersey JPO, thankfully my journey with UNHCR does not end, here! Following the end of my JPO contract, I was fortunate to be offered a position with the UNHCR country office in Bangladesh’s capital city, Dhaka. Here I’m working as Executive Assistant to the Representative – a very different role to the one I was doing in Cox’s Bazar, and one which enables me to see UNHCR’s work from a different angle. In the capital, much of UNHCR’s focus is on the critical advocacy and policy-related work with the Government, which creates the operating environment for organisations on the ground to be able to deliver life-saving assistance to the Rohingya refugees.

Beyond this role, I’m not sure where my work will take me,  but the experiences and skills I have gained will undoubtedly shape my future career, and I hope to continue to work in the humanitarian sector for many years to come.