Rohingya Families Flee Bangladesh Camps, Embark On Dangerous Sea Journeys For Hope

Rohingya refugees, facing limited options in Bangladesh and enduring reduced UN food aid, are increasingly setting out on perilous sea journeys with their children.

A growing number of Rohingya individuals are departing refugee camps in Bangladesh alongside their children, embarking on boat journeys in pursuit of improved circumstances. With diminishing prospects of returning to Myanmar or securing resettlement, coupled with challenging conditions in the camps, aid organizations report this trend.

The majority of the nearly one million Rohingya Muslims sought refuge in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, following a military crackdown in Myanmar in 2017, residing in makeshift bamboo-and-plastic camps.

Traditionally, Rohingya embark on perilous sea journeys in October, marking the end of the rainy season. These ventures are fraught with risks as overcrowded boats may sink, face shortages of food and water, and passengers may fall prey to human traffickers.

Out of approximately 1,084 Rohingya arriving in Indonesia’s Aceh province this month, U.N. refugee agency data reveals 360 children, 292 women, and 238 men. Among the 3,572 Rohingya on 34 boats this year, 31% were children. This year, 65% of departing originated from Bangladesh, a notable increase from last year’s 27%.

In 2022, a particularly deadly year for Rohingya sea journeys, children constituted a fifth of the approximately 3,705 people who fled.

The Rohingya, predominantly Muslim, continue to face persecution in Myanmar, prompting thousands to undertake perilous sea journeys each year, often in fragile boats, to reach Malaysia or Indonesia. According to Chris Lewa, the director of the Rohingya rights organization, the Arakan Project, two boats departed this week on the nights of November 20 and 21, carrying approximately 200 and 150 people, respectively. Additionally, Rohingya refugees reported a third boat with around 200 people setting sail on Thursday night.

“Children making the boat journeys was not a trend before,” stated Mohammed Mizanur Rahman, the Commissioner for Refugee Relief and Repatriation in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. For decades, the Rohingya have endured persecution in Myanmar, a predominantly Buddhist nation. Considered foreign intruders from South Asia, they are denied citizenship and subjected to mistreatment. Faced with limited prospects of settling in Bangladesh or finding acceptance elsewhere, the Rohingya feel compelled to embark on perilous sea journeys, according to Rahman.

In the current year, the United Nations has reduced food assistance to refugees in Bangladesh by one-third, providing $8 per person per month. This decrease is due to insufficient funds, with only half of the required $876 million raised. Many parents are foregoing meals due to the inadequate allowance of about 9 Bangladeshi taka ($0.08) per person, as highlighted by Rahman.

The prospect of returning to Myanmar has become increasingly unlikely. Although Myanmar’s military government proposed repatriation talks, no advancements have been achieved, and the situation is worsening amid a growing insurgency against military rule.