Rohingya families fled violence. But uncertainty about the future grips those living in the world’s largest refugee settlement.
Three years on, new challenges for Rohingya children
Three years since hundreds of thousands fled violence and persecution in Myanmar, Rohingya refugee children and families in the Cox’s Bazar District of Bangladesh are facing new challenges, including the threat of COVID-19.
Education facilities in the camps have been closed since March, as is the case around the country, meaning around 315,000 Rohingya refugee children have been out of learning centres. To help keep children learning at home, UNICEF and partners have continued to engage parents and caregivers and provided workbooks and visual aids. Rohingya volunteer teachers, meanwhile, have been delivering COVID-19 hygiene messages. Read more.
What is the Rohingya crisis?
When hundreds of thousands of terrified Rohingya refugees began flooding onto the beaches and paddy fields of southern Bangladesh in August 2017, it was the children who caught many people’s attention. As the refugees – almost 60 per cent of whom were children – poured across the border from Myanmar into Bangladesh, they brought with them accounts of the unspeakable violence and brutality that had forced them to flee.
By September 2019, around 1,295,000 people were estimated to be in need of assistance, with the Cox’s Bazar District hosting more than 855,000 Rohingya refugees from Myanmar, and with an estimated 440,000 members of the local host community affected. Those fleeing attacks and violence in the 2017 exodus joined around 300,000 people already in Bangladesh from previous waves of displacement, effectively forming the world’s largest refugee camp.
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought a new threat to these overcrowded conditions. Many refugees live in flimsy bamboo and tarpaulin shelters where the dangers of everyday life remain all too real, including the high risk of the spread of infectious diseases like the coronavirus.
How is the Rohingya crisis affecting children?
In Myanmar, most Rohingya have no legal identity or citizenship and statelessness remains a significant concern. Rohingya children in Rakhine State are hemmed in by violence, forced displacement and restrictions on freedom of movement. Compounding the problem is the increasing conflict between the Myanmar Armed Forces and the Arakan Army, which is affecting all children in the state, displacing an estimated 75,000 people thus far in 2020.
Until the conditions are in place in Myanmar that would allow Rohingya families to return home with basic rights – safety from violence, citizenship, free movement, health and education – they are stuck as refugees or internally displaced persons living in overcrowded and sometimes dangerous conditions.
Older children and adolescents who are deprived of opportunities to learn or make a living are at real risk of becoming a “lost generation”
Older children and adolescents who are deprived of opportunities to learn or make a living are at real risk of becoming a “lost generation”, ready prey to traffickers and those who would exploit them for political or other ends. Girls and women are at particular risk of sexual and other gender-based violence in this situation, including being forced into early marriage and being left out of school as parents keep them at home.
Approval to introduce the Myanmar Curriculum in the camps was granted by the Government of Bangladesh in January 2020. UNICEF, UNHCR and education sector partners have undertaken preparatory activities to launch the curriculum for grades 6 to 9, targeting 10,000 students when learning centres reopen.
What is UNICEF doing to help children in the Rohingya crisis?
“This is a crisis without a quick fix that could take years to resolve unless there is a concerted effort to address its root causes”, says Manuel Fontaine, UNICEF Director of Emergency Programmes.
In the meantime, UNICEF is on the ground, working with the government and partners, helping to deliver life-saving supplies and services for Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh.
To help reduce the spread of COVID-19, UNICEF and partners are providing safe water and soap supplies, and have installed more than 4,000 communal handwashing stations in the camps since March. UNICEF is also making sure that children have access to life-saving information on protecting themselves and their communities against the coronavirus through radio broadcasts and Meena cartoons broadcast at service points in the refugee camps and on TV in host communities.
Get the most up to date statistics available on the situation in Bangladesh and Myanmar. For information on UNICEF's COVID-19 response, including how the coronavirus is impacting Rohingya children, click here.
Recent Rohingya crisis news and features
What UNICEF is doing
UNICEF is on the ground helping to deliver life-saving supplies and services for Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh.
Working with the government and partners, UNICEF is helping provide water and sanitation, including the establishment of diarrhoeal treatment centres, health services for children and pregnant women; support for access to quality education, including establishing learning centres; and is reaching children affected by violence, abuse and neglect with prevention and assistance.