Rohingya Refugee Crisis

Bangladesh & Myanmar

The World’s Largest Group of Stateless People.

More than four years after the inter-ethnic violence which erupted in Rakhine state of Myanmar/Burma in 2012, over 120 000 people remain displaced. The vast majority of them are Rohingyas, staying in camps.

The Rohingya crisis is a human rights crisis with serious humanitarian consequences. In Myanmar/Burma, the Rohingya have very limited access to basic services and viable livelihood opportunities due to strict movement restrictions.

Rakhine State in Western Myanmar/Burma is home to at least 800 000 Muslims, most of whom self-identify as Rohingya. For decades they have suffered legal and social discrimination. While there are historical economic relations with the Buddhist Rakhine community, there are also long-standing tensions between the two groups. The 1982 Citizenship Law stripped Rohingyas of their citizenship and even the right to self-identify. They were effectively barred from voting in the last general elections in November 2015 and are left without political representation. The Rohingya are also subject to many restrictions in day to day life: banned from travelling without authorization and prohibited from working outside their villages, they cannot marry without permission and, due to movement restrictions, they lack sufficient access to livelihood opportunities, medical care and education. Due to restrictions to the number of children per couple, thousands of children are left with no birth registration documents, further restricting their access to basic services and decreasing the chance for a decent life.

A deadly assault on three border guard posts in northern Rakhine State on 9 October 2016 triggered a series of violent incidents and military operations resulting in the suspension of humanitarian activities. As a result, more than 150 000 people in Rakhine State are currently deprived of much-needed regular assistance with further tens of thousands displaced. These events have re-ignited simmering tensions between Buddhist and Muslim communities and some 25 000 Rohingya are believed to have fled across the Naaf River into Bangladesh in search for protection and assistance.

The initial influx of Rohingyas to Bangladesh dates back to 1978, with a large arrival in 1991-1992. Presently, 32 958 are living in two official camps managed by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR source) in Nayapara and Kutupalong. While these are recognized by the Government of Bangladesh as refugees, the others are labelled “Undocumented Myanmar nationals” and have no legal status in Bangladesh. The refusal of the authorities to register Rohingya at birth or provide marriage certificates and other civil documentation makes it difficult to assess the scale of the humanitarian needs of these people in Bangladesh, many of whom live in difficult conditions with inadequate food intake and diet diversification, or access to health care. Without legal status they are also unable to pursue education and formal employment opportunities, and remain vulnerable to exploitation and serious protection risks.

Tens of thousands of Muslim Rohingya have fled Myanmar, many crossing by land into Bangladesh, while others take to the sea to reach Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand. The latest surge in refugees was prompted by a long-building crisis: the discriminatory policies of the Myanmar government in Rakhine state, which have caused hundreds of thousands of Rohingya to flee since the late 1970s.

In the last few years, Thailand became a major transit point for refugees and migrants, many trying to reach Malaysia. Since 2013 Thai authorities have arrested and detained over 2000 Rohingya in Immigration Detention Centres, police stations or social welfare facilities. However, a crackdown on human smugglers and traffickers in 2015 has reduced the flow of refugees transiting through the country. As of November 2016, 316 Rohingyas remained in detention throughout Thailand, according to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).

The latest United Nations report on the Rohingya minority shocked the world yet again with descriptions of the kind of atrocities that the Myanmar security forces are perpetrating.

From children cut to death, to women raped and whole villages burned, these brutal acts have been justifiably characterized as most likely amounting to crimes against humanity.

The future for the Rohingya  refugees children of Myanmar looks bleak. They will receive, at most, a high school education. Under the current system, a child would be lucky to complete the fourth grade.

The vast majority – 60 percent – have never even been to school because their families are too poor. An estimated 80 percent of Rohingya are illiterate. Authorities in Dhaka have demanded that Myanmar repatriate tens of thousands of Rohingya Muslims who crossed the border to escape what they say is persecution, and are now living illegally in Bangladesh.

Myanmar says it will accept a small fraction of the refugee population now in Bangladesh, but the Rohingya themselves say they are unwilling to go back to Myanmar’s Rakhine state.

Bangladeshi officials’ estimates of the Rohingya population vary, but most contend there are 350,000 to 500,000 Rohingyas living in Bangladesh, over 90 percent of whom are illegal refugees.

“If Bangladesh says we must go back, we shall kill ourselves. But we will not return to Myanmar,” the Rohingya woman added.