The refugee camps in Bangladesh are temporary homes with substandard security for nearly a million Rohingya who have fled Myanmar. Photo: Fahmin Ahmed. Source: Flickr.


Six years after the mass exodus – continued great uncertainty for the Rohingya

Nearly one million Rohingya have fled their homeland of Myanmar to the Cox's Bazar region of Bangladesh due to persecution and conflict with the military government. For the people in the camp, resources are scarce and security substandard. And despite efforts to help rohingya, both in the home country and internationally, is the situation still unpredictable. 

Families live in unstable houses in dense rows on mountainous terrain. Many houses echo empty of personal possessions as the escape was urgent. The geographical location means climate-related risks such as monsoon rains and cyclones. People are basically completely dependent on humanitarian assistance to get food, water, healthcare, education and shelter. This is the reality for nearly one million Rohingya who have fled their homeland of Myanmar to refugee camps in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh - one of which is the world's largest refugee camp, according to the UN.

Escalated violence led to flight

It was during 1962 that the military in Myanmar took over power in the country and began systematic discrimination, displacement and brutality against the Rohingya ethnic group.

In 2015, power was shared between the military and the political group National League for Democracy (NLD), and in the late summer of 2017, the conflict between the military government and the Rohingya resistance group ARSA flared up in the country. The government forces responded to an attack by ARSA with, among other things, torture and rape against the ethnic group. The offensive resulted in at least 10 deaths and that many Rohingya were forced to flee. At the end of August, over 720 Rohingya fled Rakhine state to seek refuge in neighboring Bangladesh.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and other world leaders classified the actions of the government forces as "ethnic cleansing".

- The day will come when those responsible for these repulsive actions must be held accountable for them, commented the US Secretary of State and current Secretary of State Anthony J. Blinken.

In January 2021, a new coup was carried out by the military, who arrested them civilian government members and took complete control of the country. The coup was followed by international sanctions and civil demonstrations that resulted in violent clashes between the military and the protesters. The violence also continued to escalate against the civilian population at large.

The war correspondent Magda Gad entered Myanmar illegally in the spring of 2022. She says she has never seen anything like this before.

- They use methods typical of genocide to annihilate the people. […] People flee into the jungle to try to survive among the trees. […] The regime forces them to live like animals, she writes in a series of reports in Expressen.

The resistance group ARSA is also guilty of human rights violations. On the same day it attacked the authorities in 2017, the group allegedly carried out two massacres of up to 99 Hindus in the village of Ah Nauk Kha Maung Seik, according to a report by Amnesty International as of 2018. The victims included men, women and children.

- It is difficult to ignore the brutality of ARSA's actions, which have left a lasting impression on the survivors we spoke to, said tyrant hassan, head of crisis response at Amnesty International.

She pointed out that the actions of both sides must be condemned.

- Crimes against or violations of human rights by one side never justify crimes or exploitation of the other.

Solutions taken are met with criticism

In 2016, a Committee for Peace, Stability and Development was established in Rakhine, where the majority of Rohingya who remain in Myanmar live. The committee, led by the politician and former Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, would, among other things, coordinate aid efforts from the UN and non-governmental organizations. International criticism of the committee's work led to the formation of an international commission that would assist in finding sustainable solutions. This commission was also criticized for favoring the government and freed it from liability.

Aung San Suu Kyi is the front figure of the democratization process in Myanmar. She has both received the Nobel Peace Prize and been criticized for her passivity regarding the army's actions against the Rohingya. Here she is welcomed by the International Labor Organization in 2014. Photo: UN Geneva. Source: Flickr.

According to the UN Convention on Refugees and Human Rights, Rohingya who have fled have the right to return to Myanmar. Bangladesh and Myanmar already signed an agreement in 2017 regarding the return of refugees. The conditions for returning refugees, on the other hand, were not considered safe enough according to the UN refugee agency (UNHCR). UNHCR has this view still in 2023. The large internal displacement caused by the escalating violence since the military took over in 2021 is one of the biggest concerns UNHCR mentions.

Scarce resources for the refugees – despite malnutrition and security risks

Despite the need for international assistance, funding and donations for efforts for the refugees have ended. Bangladeshi authorities and organizations together with other partners requested in early 2023 more funding for humanitarian needs for the approx. 978 Rohingya which is located in Cox's Bazar and on the island of Bhasan Char.

The UN Food Program, WFP, which has provided the camp's residents with food rations, reported in February 2023 that a lack of funding will lead to cuts in these rations.

- The consequences of the cuts will be immediate and long-lasting, as the refugees are still almost entirely dependent on this assistance to get the nutrition they need, varnar de.

- Rohingya somehow survive with only our skin and our soul. In the camps I see thousands and thousands of people starving every day, says activist and teacher Habib Ullah who lives in one of the camps in Bangladesh.

Habib Ullah also testifies that malnutrition affects people of all age groups in the camp.

Another problem is the overcrowding in the camps - which poses a danger that was most recently apparent at the beginning of March this year. A fire broke out in a camp and destroyed approximately 2 dwellings, leaving approximately 000 refugees homeless. The fire also completely destroyed buildings used for healthcare and education.

Between January 2021 and December 2022, a total of 222 fires broke out in Rohingya camps, according to Bangladesh Ministry of Defence.

The future is uncertain for the Rohingya

Much points to an uncertain future for the Rohingya – both in Cox's Bazar and in Rakhine. Unpredictable funding for humanitarian needs, continued displacement by the military and overcrowding in the refugee camps are just some of the concerns for the ethnic group - which is dependent on the outside world monitoring and assistance. 

Rohingya and the conflict in Myanmar
  • Since 2012, approximately 1,5 million Rohingya have fled Myanmar. Only a third of the ethnic group remains in the country. They approximately 600 that remain in Rakhine are still persecuted by and endure violence from the military. Like the residents of Cox's Bazar, these people have limited access to food, water, education and healthcare.
  • Since 2015, military actors in Myanmar share power with the political group National League for Democracy (NLD). The NLD was founded by Aung San Suu Kyi, who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for her work for nonviolence and democratization in the country.
  • The conflict between the Rohingya and the military authorities in Myanmar is based on religion and is one of the ethnic conflicts in the country. Myanmar is seen by the military authorities as a Burmese-Buddhist country, which means they regard the Rohingya, who are mostly Muslims, as immigrants. In 1982, the military government introduced new citizenship laws which made the Rohingya stateless - despite the fact that they have lived in the country for several generations.
  • The military and other nationalist actors in the country have diligently published and shared propaganda for the view of the Rohingya as immigrants and as threat to the majority population. As a result, more people in the country now share this attitude towards the Rohingya.
  • Armed and violent Rohingya groups such as ARSA favor the threat image against the majority population and justifies that of the military violent against the civilian Rohingya population at large, according to the Swedish UN Federation. 

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