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 914,000 Rohingya were estimated to be in need of assistance, with the Cox’s Bazar District hosting more than 850,000 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, including the high risk of the spread of infectious diseases like the coronavirus.
How is the Rohingya crisis affecting children?
With the support of the government and humanitarian partners, refugees have gained access to some basic services. But they remain highly dependent on short-term aid, and are living in precarious conditions, particularly in congested camps, where living conditions are difficult and sometimes dangerous – especially during Bangladesh’s long monsoon and cyclone seasons.
In Myanmar, most Rohingya have no legal identity or citizenship. Inside the country, Rohingya children are hemmed in by violence, forced displacement and restrictions on freedom of movement. In Bangladesh, Rohingya children are not being registered at birth. Lacking a legal identity, they are unable to secure refugee status.
Until the conditions are in place in Myanmar that would allow Rohingya families to return home with basic rights – safety from violence, to citizenship, free movement, health and education – they are stuck in Bangladesh. No-one knows for how long. Meanwhile, children are unable to follow a formal education curriculum, depriving them of the skills they so desperately need if they are to develop and thrive in the future.
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 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
Geneva Palais briefing note on UNICEF response to COVID-19 in Rohingya refugee camps as first coronavirus case confirmed
Preventing a silent crisis for Rohingya women and girls
A nationwide lockdown brings an increased risk of gender-based violence for Rohingya and Bangladeshi women and girls
Rohingya children: Beyond survival
Rohingya children and young people want more than survival – they want a hopeful future, too
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.
Results for Rohingya children in Cox's Bazar
Read about UNICEF's humanitarian appeals
Find out about UNICEF's 2019 appeals on major emergencies affecting children