THE GLOBAL REFUGEE CRISIS: The Rohingya Refugee Crisis
Faye Ferris | 27 November 2018 |
The Rohingya refugee crisis heightened in August 2017, when the Myanmar Government had increased their military persecution of the muslim minority in the province of Rakhine. In the following few months, over 7,000,000 Rohingya risked death to flee by sea or on foot to the neighbouring country, Bangladesh, which already hosted over 3,000,000 in camps prior. With over a million refugees in just one of the 11 Bangladesh camps, the Kutupalong camp is currently the largest refugee camp in world. Recently, the UN has claimed that the Rohingya plight is the “world’s fastest growing refugee crisis”.
The muslim minority are categorised by the Myanmar government as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, and in the preceding years before the latest crisis, thousands of Rohingya fled from Myanmar to escape communal violence or alleged abuses by the security forces. This persecution by the government of Myanmar, a predominantly Buddhist country, has been justified as suppression of Rohingya militants and denies targeting civilians. Tensions worsened on 25 August 2017 after Rohingya Arsa militants attacked more than 30 police posts. However, the following persecution has been reported as indiscriminate between militants and civilians as Myanmar military went from town to town, burning housing as shown by aerial footage from the BBC. Similarly, first person accounts show indiscriminate military attacks, with an account from the Guardian in our podcast attached.
With masses fleeing from these horrible transgressions of human rights, camps began to swell in Bangladesh. The aforementioned Kutupalong camp spans over more than 2,000 acres, and is majoritively made of makeshift huts built by the refugees, along with humanitarian groups setting up to provide provisions alongside camp officials from Bangladesh. Rations of rice, oils and lentils are provided, as is medicine. However, there is still a lack in facilities, particularly highlighted during the current monsoon season that has seen tents and structures wash away. Previously, people waited for hours in the rain for small rations, but with the worrying statistic emerging that nearly half the children of the camp suffered from anemia due to unbalanced diets, a new system was implemented using e-cards to provide, more efficiently and for the first time, meat and dairy, as reported by the WFP. Also, inhabitants of the camps worry about the lack of education and the possibility of losing their sense of community, culture and religion.
These camps are funded by Bangladesh, with support from the UN and groups like the Asian Development Bank. However, as Bangladesh is already a poor country, with the World Bank putting 12.9% of its population as living in extreme poverty in October 2017, around the time that the influx of refugees increased. Thus, with these pressures of limited resources, agreements have been made between the two neighbouring countries for the return of the refugees to their country of origin, Myanmar.
Last Thursday, authorities sought to transit 2,200 Rohingya refugees from the Jamtoli and Hakimpara camps in Bangladesh, in an attempt to begin this repatriation process. The repatriation is considered dangerous by the UN and human rights groups, with UN investigators reporting that there is a continuing threat of genocide in Myanmar. No Rohingya refugees, voluntarily chose to return to Myanmar on thursday, the first day of the planned repatriation programme. The refugees listed by authorities to return instead had fled from their shelters to hide in other camps or the surrounding forests. The Rohingya in Bangladesh refuse to return until their demands for citizenship and right to their land are granted, as a gesture of safety from the Myanmar government.
In attempts to begin the repatriation, the Bangladesh government sent military to the camps and there have been reports of abuses on refugees that have refused to cooperate. In a video, verified by the Guardian, Ata Ullah, a Rohingya leader in the Chakmarkul camp alleges that he was beaten in the office of a camp officer “with a large stick” on Monday, after he refused to provide them with list of Rohingya in his camp. It has been claimed that camp officials have been telling Rohingya refugees that they will face hardship if they do not return to Myanmar, threatening to stop supplying rations, and suggesting they will be barred from working with the different NGOs. Also threatened is the refugee’s freedom to move around freely, which is currently being enforced by the military presence in the Jamtoli and Hakimpara camps, as many are too afraid to leave their shelters.
The evident signs of fear for repatriation in the Bangladesh camps has caused objections on the global stage as reactions include that of Michelle Bachelet, the UN high commissioner for human rights, who condemned the “terror and panic” it was causing Rohingya who were at “imminent risk of being returned to Myanmar against their will.”. Also following protests within the camps, on sunday, repatriation plans were officially postponed to 2019 as Abul Kalam, Bangladesh’s refugee relief and repatriation commissioner, stated that “a new course of action” was necessary that considered refugees’ demands.
With elections approaching in Bangladesh on December 30th 2018, Kalam has stated that any decision either to repatriate people, or relocate refugees from the crowded camps to Bangladesh’s Bhasan Char island will not proceed until after the election in 2019. Clearly, the refugee crisis will be a predominant issue with the electorate, as it has become contentious with Bangladeshis that feel their small, overpopulated country should not be bearing the burden of an extra million people in one of its poorest regions.
Thus, with the looming threat of possible expulsion from their host country in 2019, Rohingya refugees contemplate their return to a country with a government that currently do not recognise their citizenship, see them as illegal immigrants and have terrorised and subjugated them previously on mass scale.