Refugees International is alarmed by the deteriorating security situation for Rohingya in Bangladesh and the failure of governments in south and southeast Asia to provide adequate protection. The fire in the Rohingya camps on January 7th that left nearly 7,000 Rohingya homeless is just the latest in a series of calamities faced by Rohingya in Bangladesh and across the region.
In recent weeks, Rohingya refugees have increasingly taken to sea to escape violence and hunger in the camps in Bangladesh. Meanwhile, regional governments have fallen short in countering hate speech and rescuing or allowing Rohingya to access asylum if they do come ashore.
As rival Rohingya gangs and militants battle for influence in the camps and Bangladeshi and security forces respond with overly aggressive means, Rohingya refugees are caught in the crossfire. At the same time, Rohingya in Myanmar are facing increased fighting between resistance groups and the military junta responsible for committing genocide against them. This further diminishes the prospects for safe return of refugees any time soon. The violence in Myanmar, coupled with the rising insecurity, declining humanitarian funding, and ongoing restrictions on the ability to work or move freely in Bangladesh, are resulting in increasing numbers of Rohingya taking to sea to seek asylum elsewhere.
According to UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), more Rohingya fled Bangladesh by boat in 2023 than in any other year since 2015, including 1,500 who have arrived in Indonesia in recent weeks. At least 225 are believed to have drowned. Hundreds are believed to remain at sea.
Yet, countries in the region continue to pushback boats or detain arriving Rohingya and deny them access to apply for asylum. Indonesia’s navy recently reported pushing a Rohingya boat back to sea and Thailand and India have done the same in recent years. Even when Rohingya boats are rescued they face abuses and are often denied access to asylum. For example, at the end of December, India rescued a ship with 142 Rohingya, but the fate of those brought ashore is uncertain given India’s track record of indefinite detention of Rohingya.
Rising online hate speech and disinformation is further endangering Rohingya in the region, as seen last month in a mob attack targeting recently arrived Rohingya in Indonesia.
And last week, UNHCR announced plans to close its office in Sri Lanka, home to around 100 Rohingya and hundreds of other refugees.
One piece of positive news has been the restoration of food rations to Rohingya in Bangladesh from $8 per month to $10 per month, but this remains below the previously provided $12 per day rations and future funding remains questionable.
Refugees International calls on international donors to increase funding for the Rohingya response and urges regional countries to step up their Rohingya protection efforts. Rather than shrinking asylum for Rohingya, regional countries should speak out against disinformation and work together to provide search and rescue, safe disembarkation, and access to paths toward asylum.