Rohingya families fled violence. But uncertainty about the future grips those living in the world’s largest refugee settlement.
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; by the end of 2020, the Cox’s Bazar District was still hosting more than 860,000 Rohingya refugees from Myanmar. 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. On 22 March 2021, a fire in Cox’s Bazar caused widespread devastation when it quickly spread across four Rohingya refugee camps, displacing around 50,000 refugees – half of whom were children.
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, insecurity and instability increased in 2020, with significant displacement and increased conflict in Rakhine and Chin States, continuing conflict in Shan State, and hardening of positions by ethnic armed organizations and the Myanmar Armed Forces.
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. The aim is to transition children in the camps to the Myanmar Curriculum in the coming years.
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 communal handwashing stations in the camps. 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.
Recent Rohingya crisis news and features
What UNICEF is doing
UNICEF is on the ground working to help 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.