In August 2017, a wave of armed assaults, extensive violence, and severe human rights abuses compelled numerous Rohingya individuals to escape their residences in Myanmar’s Rakhine State. Their arduous journeys led them through jungles and perilous sea voyages across the Bay of Bengal to seek refuge in Bangladesh. Presently, over 960,000 people have sought sanctuary in Bangladesh, with the majority settling in the Cox Bazar region, which is now home to the largest refugee camp worldwide. The United Nations has characterized the Rohingya as the “most marginalized minority on the planet.
Filippo Grandi mentioned that the ongoing armed conflict in Myanmar, coupled with reduced funding and aid due to other global crises in places like Afghanistan, Ukraine, and the Middle East, is making it progressively challenging to deliver humanitarian assistance.
Who are the Rohingya?
The Rohingya population, an Indo-Aryan ethnic group practicing Islam, resided in Myanmar’s Rakhine State before the tragic events of the Rohingya genocide in 2017, which forced over 740,000 Rohingya to seek refuge in Bangladesh. Before this crisis, Myanmar was home to an estimated 1.4 million Rohingya. Regarded by journalists and media outlets as one of the world’s most persecuted minority groups, the Rohingya people were deprived of citizenship rights as per Myanmar’s 1982 nationality law.
They also faced significant restrictions on their freedom of movement, access to state education, and opportunities for civil service employment. The legal challenges confronting the Rohingya in Myanmar have drawn comparisons to apartheid, a system of institutionalized racial segregation, by various academics, analysts, and notable figures such as Nobel laureate Bishop Desmond Tutu, a prominent South African anti-apartheid activist. The mass displacement of Rohingya in 2017 prompted investigations by the International Criminal Court into potential crimes against humanity and by the International Court of Justice into allegations of genocide.
The History of the Crisis
For many years, the Rohingya population has endured prolonged periods of violence, bias, and mistreatment in Myanmar. Their most significant displacement occurred in August 2017 when a widespread outbreak of violence erupted in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, compelling over 742,000 individuals, including a significant number of children, to flee to safety in Bangladesh. During this crisis, entire villages were razed to the ground, countless families were torn apart or lost, and numerous grave human rights abuses were documented. In the aftermath of the 2017 attacks and violence, those escaping joined approximately 300,000 people who had previously sought refuge in Bangladesh due to earlier waves of displacement.
This collective influx gave rise to the world’s most extensive refugee camp. Fast forward six years and approximately half a million Rohingya children find themselves in exile from their homeland, with many of them being born into this state of uncertainty.
The Rohingya population is entirely dependent on humanitarian aid for their safety, sustenance, and access to clean water, shelter, and healthcare. They currently inhabit temporary dwellings in densely populated camp environments.
Where they Sought Refuge
Over a million Rohingya refugees have fled violence in Myanmar over multiple displacement waves since the 1990s. Presently, more than 960,000 Rohingya refugees have found shelter in Bangladesh, primarily concentrated in and around the Kutupalong and Nayapara refugee camps, which rank among the world’s largest and most densely populated camps, situated in Cox’s Bazar region.
Of these Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, 52 percent are children, and 51 percent are women and girls. They constitute a substantial portion of the total population in the Cox’s Bazar region, emphasizing the importance of support for host communities to ensure peaceful coexistence. Since 2021, the Government of Bangladesh has taken steps to alleviate congestion in the 33 camps in Cox’s Bazar by relocating nearly 30,000 refugees to Bhasan Char island. Although protection services and humanitarian aid have been expanded on the island, there remain notable gaps in service delivery and the sustainability of critical assistance.
In addition to Bangladesh, Rohingya refugees have also sought refuge in neighboring countries such as Thailand (92,000) and India (21,000), and smaller numbers have settled in countries like Indonesia, Nepal, and others across the region. Of these Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, 52 percent are children, and 51 percent are women and girls. They constitute a substantial portion of the total population in the Cox’s Bazar region, emphasizing the importance of support for host communities to ensure peaceful coexistence.
Since 2021, the Government of Bangladesh has taken steps to alleviate congestion in the 33 camps in Cox’s Bazar by relocating nearly 30,000 refugees to Bhasan Char island. Although protection services and humanitarian aid have been expanded on the island, there remain notable gaps in service delivery and the sustainability of critical assistance.
Britain has expressed its dedication to resolving the Rohingya crisis in a lasting manner. This commitment entails ensuring the safe, voluntary, and dignified return of Rohingya refugees to Myanmar when conditions in their homeland permit. Until such a safe return is feasible, the UK remains steadfast in its commitment to offering continuous humanitarian assistance.
The Rohingya crisis is a dire humanitarian situation stemming from years of violence, persecution, and displacement of the Rohingya population in Myanmar. The tragic events of the Rohingya genocide in 2017 forced a massive exodus of over 740,000 Rohingya to seek refuge in Bangladesh, where they now reside in densely populated camps. The Rohingya, an Indo-Aryan ethnic group practicing Islam, have faced discrimination and deprivation of basic rights in Myanmar for years, leading to their status as one of the world’s most persecuted minority groups.
The ongoing armed conflict in Myanmar, coupled with challenges in funding and aid due to other global crises, has made it increasingly difficult to deliver essential humanitarian assistance to the Rohingya population. While Britain and other international actors are committed to finding a long-term solution, the immediate priority is the safety, voluntary return, and dignified living conditions for the Rohingya, as well as providing ongoing humanitarian support until their return becomes possible.
The plight of the Rohingya serves as a stark reminder of the urgent need for international attention and support to address the complex and protracted refugee crisis, with millions of lives hanging in the balance as they await a hopeful resolution and the chance to rebuild their lives in a place they can call home.