Rohingya families fled violence. But six years later, uncertainty about the future still grips those living in the world’s largest refugee settlement.
Updated 16 February 2024
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.
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. Six years later, about half a million Rohingya refugee children are living in exile from their home country. Many of them have been born into this limbo.
The Rohingya rely entirely on humanitarian assistance for protection, food, water, shelter and health, and they are living in temporary shelters in highly congested camp settings.
How is the Rohingya crisis affecting children?
While basic services have been provided, children still face disease outbreaks, malnutrition, inadequate educational opportunities and the risks related to neglect, exploitation and violence including gender-based violence risks, child marriage and child labour. Meanwhile, annual cycles of heavy monsoon and cyclones pose substantial risks to both Rohingya refugees and host communities.
In Myanmar, most Rohingya have no legal identity or citizenship and statelessness remains a significant concern. Rohingya children in Rakhine State, meanwhile, have been hemmed in by violence, forced displacement and restrictions on freedom of movement.
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.
What is UNICEF doing to help Rohingya children?
UNICEF has been on the ground in the refugee camps in Bangladesh from day one, and is still there for every Rohingya refugee child who needs clean water, health care, protection, nutritious food and education.
Working with the Government of Bangladesh 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.
It is critical that the rights and dignity of the Rohingya refugees be respected, protected and promoted. Ensuring that Rohingya refugees have educational opportunities, access to health care and services, clean water and sanitation, as well as have access to livelihood opportunities which will ensure that the refugees are equipped and ready to return to a life of dignity in their homeland.
All children deserve equitable and inclusive access to education. To help prevent a “lost generation,” UNICEF and partners have enrolled more than 300,000 children in classes. Rohingya children and their parents have made it clear that they want an education based on the Myanmar curriculum. The start of the 2023/24 school year marks the first time that Rohingya refugee children of all ages will be studying under the Myanmar Curriculum.
Recent Rohingya crisis news and features
What UNICEF is doing
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.