Futures in the balance: Building hope for a generation of Rohingya children

UNICEF Child Alert | August 2018

A boy stands in a Rohingya refugee camp in Bangladesh

One year ago, hundreds of thousands of desperate and terrorized people – more than half of them children – poured across the border from Myanmar into Bangladesh, bringing with them accounts of the unspeakable violence and brutality that had forced them to flee.
Today, a semblance of normality has descended on the camps and the surrounding communities in which Rohingya refugees live, but it’s a normality that cannot last indefinitely. These communities live on a knife-edge, gripped by uncertainty about their future, and still traumatized by their experiences in Myanmar.
This UNICEF Child Alert calls for a concerted effort to build a new foundation for the rights and opportunities of Rohingya children over the longer term.

Crisis at a glance

How many Rohingya refugees are in Bangladesh?

Around 919,000 Rohingya refugees now live in southern Bangladesh, the vast majority in the camps and settlements that have sprung up in Cox’s Bazar district, close to the border with Myanmar.

What are the main challenges Rohingya refugees face?

Daily life is dominated by the search for food and water, and coping with living conditions that are difficult and sometimes dangerous – especially in Bangladesh’s long monsoon and cyclone seasons, which last until the end of the year.

This daily challenge of survival is compounded by uncertainty over their future. They want to return home, but say they will not do so until the necessary conditions for their return are in place, and until their basic rights in Myanmar have been secured.

How are Rohingya children affected by the crisis?

Aside from the challenges outlined above, children also face an uncertain future. Lack of schooling is a frequent complaint around the camp, especially among adolescents. Girls in particular are at risk of sexual exploitation and gender-based violence. All children face the threat of malnutrition, disease and unsafe water.

How one Rohingya girl avoided missing out on school

Two girls write on a sheet of paper, Bangladesh

When Rajima, a 10-year-old Rohingya refugee, arrived in Bangladesh in August 2017 she was traumatized, exhausted and frightened. 

She was noticed immediately by Tasmin, a Bangladeshi girl of the same age who lives close by.

“When I saw her family arriving, I felt so sad for them because they had nothing,” Tasmin said.

The pair started chatting and became immediate friends. “My father asked her family if they wanted to stay in our house, because at that time they had no shelter available for them in the camp. They ended up staying with us for one month. During that time we became best friends.”

When Rajima’s family was given space to build a shelter, she was unable to go to school because her parents needed her to help with housework.

But Tasmin was determined that her friend should not miss out. “I meet her every day after school and help her to read and write. It makes me really happy to do it.”

“When we grow up we want to be doctors and help people together,” Rajima says.

Tasmin nods in agreement. “I want to help the Rohingya and the Bangladeshi people,” she says.

Voices of Rohingya refugees

UNICEF's response

UNICEF and its partners from both government and civil society have continued and broadened their work in Myanmar and Bangladesh:

  • To protect children in the largely lawless environment of the camps, UNICEF and partners have set up 136 child-friendly spaces, creating a safe place for children to heal, grow and play.
  • To protect girls against gender-based violence, UNICEF and its protection partners are working to expand their case management work, focusing on adolescent girls.
  • To help children continue their schooling, UNICEF and partners rapidly set up hundreds of learning centres and are now developing a strategy to ensure consistency and quality in the curriculum.
  • To provide access to safe water and sanitation, UNICEF is working with the Department of Public Health Engineering to construct new boreholes by the end of the year, and expanding waste processing and toilet construction in the camps.
  • To provide primary, preventative and emergency health care, UNICEF supports health units and immunization campaigns throughout the camps, including prevention and treatment for severe acute malnutrition.

Despite the immense efforts undertaken by the international community and governments, the futures of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya children and their families remain in the balance. UNICEF calls for coordinated action by the Governments of Myanmar and Bangladesh, with the active support of the international community. This is a crisis that will require a complex, multi-layered approach underpinned by long-term financial resources and infrastructural development, and bold political will.


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