The Rohingyas’ are a Muslim minority in the Arakan region of Myanmar. They are also referred to as the ‘world’s most persecuted population’. Over the last few decades, they faced extreme persecution and destruction of their homes by Buddhist majority groups and the Myanmar Military force. Whenever any conflict or violence took place in the Rakhine state of Myanmar, the Rohingyas escaped to near countries, mostly to Bangladesh as it’s the nearest and easily accessible compared to other countries.
In Myanmar, Rohingya people have been denied nationality under the 1982 Citizenship Law. Since 1978, they have been subjected to some serious human rights violations and substantial spikes following the forceful attacks in 1978, 1991-1992, and again in 2016. Seeking shelter in Bangladesh for the Rohingya people is not a sudden phenomenon. They have been finding their way to Bangladesh since the late 1970s. But the unprecedented influx occurred from August 25, 2017, and onwards due to extreme violence and persecutions in the Northern Rakhine state of Myanmar, where at least 6,700 Rohingya people including children under the age of 5 are estimated to have been violently killed by the Myanmar Military. The United Nations defines it as a ‘textbook example of ethnic cleansing’.
“They burnt my house and killed my family members in front of my eyes.”
Mohammed, a Rohingya refugee upon arrival in Bangladesh
They were most vulnerable during their journey to the Bangladesh border which was fraught with challenges. With limited food, water, and medical access, they had to cross the mountainous terrain and finally cross the Naf River to reach Bangladesh. Another way was to take a boat from Myanmar shores to the Bay of Bengal which often caused the drowning and death of hundreds of Rohingyas. It took around 17 days to reach Bangladesh for those who came after August 2017.
On the other hand, Bangladesh is not legally bound to accept Rohingya people from Myanmar or refugees from any other country as Bangladesh is not a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention or its 1967 Protocol. Bangladesh is also not a party to the 1954 and 1961 Statelessness Conventions. Being already an overly populated country, the Government of Bangladesh (GoB) generously accepted the nearly 1 million Rohingyas, who joined more than 200,000 existing Rohingya who had fled years before, with open hands and gave shelter, a border area with Myanmar, in Cox’s Bazar. The Bangladesh government has responded immediately to address the crisis. They opened the door for NGOs and INGOs to operate along with UN agencies to support the Rohingya refugees. The host community of Bangladesh played a crucial role in embracing the Rohingyas’ and lending their open arms with everything they could immediately. They spared no effort to help, straining their already limited resources.
Moreover, the scale and rapidity of the expulsion of Rohingya into Bangladesh created a complex humanitarian crisis. In such a situation, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Bangladesh took the lead in coordinating the government and international response. In November 2017, when the critical demands of the influx were mounting, the responsibility of overseeing the aspects of settlement and management of Rohingya was entrusted to Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commission (RRRC). UN agencies including UNHCR, UNICEF, WHO, and IOM have been working with GoB from the beginning of the influx to alleviate the plight of the uprooted people. The GoB along with the humanitarian organizations developed a Joint Response Plan (JRP) in March 2018 which focused on addressing the immediate needs of Rohingyas while mitigating the impacts on host communities by strengthening the coordinated response.
Lastly, most of the Rohingyas who arrived after August 2017 have been living in several camps across the Cox’s Bazar district. But camps are quite congested and space is cramped for a person to live. According to UNHCR, 93% of the Rohingya population lives below the UNHCR emergency standard of 45 square meters per person.[i] Space is as low as 8 square meters per person in some areas of the Kutupalong – Balukhali Expansion Site. Most of the Rohingyas are in the crowded Kutupalong camp which now the largest refugee settlement in the world.[ii] They face travel and work restrictions, and remain entirely reliant on humanitarian aid. Two and a half years past the mass exodus of Rohingya people from Myanmar, their future looks as uncertain as ever.