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The Unwanted: A portrait of the Rohingya refugee crisis

Hundreds of Rohingya children queue for food in the muddy and unsanitary Unchiprang makeshift camp in Bangladesh. They came by boat or walked barefoot for days. wading through vast rice fields. ©UNHCR/Roger Arnold

Hundreds of Rohingya children queue for food in the muddy and unsanitary Unchiprang makeshift camp in Bangladesh. They came by boat or walked barefoot for days. wading through vast rice fields. ©UNHCR/Roger Arnold

By Fiona Irvine-Goulet

Since August 25, 2017, more than 600,000 Rohingya refugees have fled violence in Myanmar. Most are women and children; many have been beaten, tortured, raped, or have seen their homes
and villages burned to the ground. Their loved ones have been killed or have disappeared.  UNHCR has been helping Rohingya refugees for many years in Bangladesh—where the majority of have
arrived—and continues to supply life-saving aid.

Who are the Rohingya and why are they persecuted?

They are the world’s largest group of stateless people, an ethnic minority of about 1.3 million people, mostly Muslim, living in the northern Rakhine state of Myanmar, a predominantly Buddhist country. Considered “foreigners” within their own country, they have no citizenship, and are denied many basic human rights, including health care, education and employment. Most live below the poverty line. Throughout the years, there have been many waves of Rohingya refugees fleeing persecution and violence in Myanmar.

What happened recently to trigger this exodus?

On August 25, 2017, Myanmar state media reported that 12 security officers had been killed by Rohingya insurgents. The subsequent army crackdown in Rakhine state and ensuing violence and destruction of villages triggered an exodus that in just six days reached an astonishing 270,000 Rohingya fleeing on foot and by boat to Bangladesh.

A young baby sleeps soundly among some 5,000 people being relocated to a new site near Kutupalong refugee camp. ©UNHCR/Roger Arnold

A young baby sleeps soundly among some 5,000 people being relocated to a new site near Kutupalong refugee camp. ©UNHCR/Roger Arnold

Where are the Rohingya now?

Bangladesh has, for decades, been home to hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees. In 2017, to cope with the recent arrivals, UNHCR expanded the previously established refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar, and provided relief and shelter items. The Bangladeshi government has allocated some 2,000 acres of land close to Kutupalong camp on which family tents and temporary communal shelters have been erected to shelter new arrivals. There are still many Rohingya remaining in Rakhine state on whose behalf UNHCR has called for an end to the violence, and access to provide much needed humanitarian assistance.

 What is UNHCR doing to help?

Since August 25, 2017, UNHCR has airlifted 1,500 metric tonnes of emergency life-saving aid to Bangladesh—including blankets, plastic sheets, sleeping mats, family tents, plastic rolls, kitchen sets, jerry cans and buckets to assist 250,000 refugees. With its partners, UNHCR is developing Kutupalong Extension, a new site near Kutupalong refugee camp. This includes funding a road to facilitate construction and refugee access, supporting site planning, building latrines and wells, improving the water and sanitation facilities and distributing shelter materials.

As in any humanitarian crisis in which families become separated, UNHCR registers families and has established a referral system to reunify unaccompanied children with their parents. Victims of sexual violence, in particular, are referred to safe spaces. UNHCR is also enhancing efforts to identify and refer children at risk, so they can receive the appropriate support.

For more information on the Rohingya refugee crisis and how you can help, please visit unhcr.ca/bangladesh