Rohingya refugee crisis
Lives in limbo
When hundreds of thousands of terrified Rohingya refugees began flooding onto the beaches and paddy-fields of southern Bangladesh six months ago, it was the children -- who made up nearly sixty per cent of their number -- that caught many people’s attention.
The babies carried in the arms of siblings little older than themselves; the frightened toddlers clutching at the clothing of their exhausted parents; and the tiny graves of those who didn’t survive the journey.
By any definition, this extraordinary exodus – quickly dubbed the world’s fastest-growing humanitarian emergency – was a children’s crisis. Yet the images only told part of the story.
Back in Myanmar, an estimated half million Rohingya remain largely sealed off in their communities and displacement camps, fearful that the violence and horror that had driven so many of their relatives and neighbours to flee would engulf them too.
UNICEF calls on Bangladesh to provide:
Additional land to allow for decongesting the camps to ensure adequate access to water, sanitation, health and other services
Support to the expansion of multi-lingual education for all children in the camps
Birth registration for all Rohingya children born in Bangladesh
Refugee status for all Rohingya children and their families
In Myanmar, the scale of the challenge remains unclear. Only with unimpeded access to all parts of Rakhine State can UNICEF and other humanitarian partners meet the essential protection, health and other needs of the Rohingya who stayed behind.
And without a permanent end to the violence, still more desperate refugees will continue to make their way towards Bangladesh.
A great deal has been achieved since August 2017. But much, much more must be done to protect an outcast population, and tackle the complex roots of this crisis before its painful repercussions spread further still, and condemn a generation of Rohingya children to a perpetual life in limbo.
Having arrived virtually empty-handed, the families depend on handouts of water, food and other basic assistance.
UNICEF calls on Myanmar to provide:
Stop the violence, including the killing of children and provide protection for Rohingya children and those of all other ethnic groups
Allow unrestricted access for humanitarian organisations to all areas of Rakhine state
Improve humanitarian conditions in Rakhine in line with the recommendations of the Rakhine Advisory Commission
Create the ground to would allow voluntary, safe and dignified return of Rohingya refugees to their former communities. Rohingya families must be consulted on any decisions.
The same goes for those taken in by long-suffering local host communities. They are also at risk of serious illness or death: respiratory and waterborne diseases are the main risks, but an ongoing diphtheria outbreak has disproportionately affected children below the age of fifteen who make up 75 per cent of cases.
Over 14,000 children have been admitted to UNICEF-supported treatment centres suffering from Severe Acute Malnutrition.
Huge challenges remain. The fragile camps – built on sandy soil and steep slopes – must be urgently reinforced to avoid being swept away in the coming cyclone season.
Meanwhile, vulnerable children – and girls in particular -- are prey to traffickers and other abuses. Decongestion of the camps is essential to ensure basic facilities reach all inhabitants.
The fragile camps – built on sandy soil and steep slopes – must be urgently reinforced to avoid being swept away in the coming cyclone season.
The specific rights of newborns are another important challenge: currently any child born in Bangladesh is provided with a birth certificate. But this does not confer any entitlement to citizenship. Finding a solution to the statelessness of Rohingya children is a critical issue to be addressed.
While the Rohingya refugees wait to learn their fate, a generation of children are losing valuable time. Until the conditions are in place in Myanmar that would allow them to return home as citizens, with their rights and dignity intact, they are stuck in Bangladesh – no-one knows for how long.
The international community must plan for a long-term stay, and provide Bangladesh with the necessary financial and other resources to be able to deal with the crisis that the refugees’ arrival – joining those from previous influxes -- has created. At the same time, it must demand the Government of Myanmar create the conditions that will respect the rights of the Rohingya and allow their prompt and safe return – not to IDP camps – but to their own homes.
Currently, 100 people must use a single latrine. An outbreak of cholera or acute watery diarrhoea could kill thousands.
An estimated 919,000 Rohingya refugees are now living in Cox’s Bazar, according to the Needs and Population Monitoring exercise
Over 9,000 such water points constructed throughout the camp areas. Construction and maintenance of around 50,000 latrines.
UNICEF and partners support 145,000 children at Child Friendly Spaces in Rohingya refugee camps and host communities
2,165,543 outpatient consultations to the refugee and host communities
145,599 children screened for Severe Acute Malnutrition
240,787 crisis-affected children and adolescents received child protection services including psycho-social support
Alongside our partners, UNICEF is on the ground in both Myanmar and Bangladesh, delivering life-saving assistance including nutrition and health services, safe water and sanitation, protection services and support to education.
In Bangladesh, aid efforts led and overseen by a Government – and local communities – who have been unstinting in their generosity have averted disaster. But with the cyclone season looming, urgent efforts – and funding -- are necessary to shield the fragile refugee encampments from the forces of nature, and to preserve the services on which so many children depend.
But a lasting solution requires more: the recognition of the basic rights of the Rohingya population – ending the legislation, policies and practices that discriminate against them; and curbing the tensions between the different communities in Rakhine State.
Such was the wise recommendation of the Rakhine Advisory Commission headed by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, when it submitted its report last year. The Commission called for urgent investment in schools, health services and other basic services in Rakhine State, one of Myanmar’s poorest states that would benefit all communities living there.
It is also the means by which the necessary conditions can be established to allow the return of the Rohingya refugees to their former homes. A voluntary, safe and dignified return process cannot place children or their families in danger, nor force returning families into camps. Rohingya who return must have freedom of movement, and access to essential services.
Amid incredibly difficult circumstances, the Bangladesh authorities deserve enormous credit for all they have done to help these desperate people. Under the government’s leadership, national and international aid bodies have averted the worst consequences of this human calamity – for now at least.
Everything possible must be done to safeguard the rights of all children affected by this crisis – an obligation both Myanmar and Bangladesh accepted when they ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
By restoring and guaranteeing rights, starting with investment in education, it is possible to turn this crisis into a story of hope for children and the future.
Long term solutions to this crisis are based on respect for and protection of the human rights of all Rohingya people
The current crisis must be a turning point for coordinated action to address the longstanding violence and discrimination against Rohingya people, to restore and guarantee their rights and help them rebuild their lives.
Rohingya children must not be left to languish in hopeless limbo. This is an investment in hope for every child and a better future for the region.
UNICEF reiterates its readiness to support the realisation of these critically-important goals, working in partnership with both Governments towards the achievement of our common goals for children, women, and all vulnerable groups regardless of their ethnicity, religion, or status.
UNICEF calls on the international community to:
To fully fund all life-saving humanitarian assistance for Rohingya children and families in Bangladesh and Myanmar, and especially to urgently support scaled up activities to mitigate the risks of the upcoming cyclone and monsoon season.
To invest in supporting quality education for all Rohingya children, to ensure that they do not lose educational opportunities while longer-term solutions to this crisis are being developed
To support UNICEF’s and our partners’ call for unrestricted humanitarian access across Rakhine State in Myanmar to reach all Rohingya children and families
To stay the course in supporting Rohingya children and families, in working with the governments and civil society of Bangladesh and Myanmar