Refugees International (RI) traveled to Bangladesh in May 2017, visiting the makeshift settlements for Rohingya refugees who have fled from neighboring Myanmar. More than 70,000 Rohingya have fled severe human rights abuses by the Myanmar military since October 2016, joining as many as 500,000 estimated Rohingya who have come to Bangladesh during decades of persecution in Myanmar.
*Names have been changed for protection purposes.
RI spoke with dozens of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, hearing appeals for food, improved shelter, and ultimately, an intense desire to return safely to their homeland.
For those Rohingya who fled since October, the memory of recent abuses is fresh. Farida*, 20, fled her village in Maungdaw five months ago. “My neighbors were raped,” she said, “As a young girl, I worried too much. I did not feel safe to stay.”
Fifty-seven percent of the “new arrivals”, those Rohingya who arrived since October 2016, are children, according to UNICEF. This woman told RI her husband disappeared just before they left Myanmar and they still don’t know where he is.
Recent arrivals can only build shelters using temporary materials, mainly mud, sticks, and plastic tarps, leaving them vulnerable to the monsoon season. Cyclone Mora hit just days after RI’s mission, destroying thousands of the refugee shelters and leaving the international community and Bangladesh Government scrambling to respond.
Halima*, 40, arrived at Kutupalong makeshift settlement with her five children just days before RI met with her. Neighbors helped her build this shelter, nearly uninhabitable during the extreme daytime heat and vulnerable to the heavy winds of the monsoon season.
There are 33,000 officially recognized Rohingya refugees living in two camps established in the early 1990s. Half are estimated to have been born in the camps. They act as a reminder of the long-standing nature of the plight of the Rohingya and the dangers of failing to address the most recent exodus. Pictured here is the sprawling makeshift settlement that has been built up next to the official Kutupalong Refugee Camp.
The Bangladesh Government and international community have been providing emergency food rations and trying to help improve conditions in the new settlements but resources are strained. Water and sanitation needs provide a particularly urgent challenge as crowded and flooded camps threaten further outbreaks of cholera and diarrhea.
In the immediate term, shelters need to be reinforced and emergency food provided to refugees. In the longer term, the root causes of the Rohingya exodus must be addressed in Myanmar, including an end to abuses, accountability for those abuses that have taken place, through the UN Fact-Finding Mission, and reforming the 1982 Citizenship Law to allow Rohingya, who have lived in Myanmar for generations, a path to citizenship.