About the Bangladesh Refugee Crisis
the fastest growing refugee crisis in the world
The self-identified ethnic group known as Rohingya are a Muslim minority largely from the Rahkine state of Myanmar. They have been persecuted socially and economically for decades, their status as citizens slowly eroding over time. While many historians and Rohingya groups trace Rohingya's heritage in the Arakan state of Myanmar to the 12th century, the Buddhist majority claim that they migrated illegally during British colonization from 1824 to 1948. Many in the majority refuse to even use the term "Rohingya" and consider them Bengali. After independence, the Union Citizenship Act was passed defining which ethnicities could gain citizenship. The Rohingya were not included, but families who lived in Myanmar for at least two generations were allowed to apply for identity cards.
After the 1962 military coup, all citizens were required to obtain national registration cards. However, the Rohingya were given only foreign identity cards, which limited job and educational opportunities. Since the 1970s, Rohingya have been fleeing from Myanmar to neighboring countries due to ongoing persecution by the military. Hundreds of thousands now occupy makeshift settlements near Cox's Bazar. Myanmar's 1982 Citizenship Law finally stripped Rohingya of their citizenship and limited their rights to travel without authorization, work outside their villages, or marry without permission. The restrictions on movement severely impeded access to medical care and education.
In 2016, nine border security guards were killed, prompting a security crackdown in which "government troops were accused of an array of human rights abuses including extrajudicial killing, rape, and arson." The government denies these allegations, but human rights groups have identified these and similar actions by Myanmar troops as "textbook ethnic cleansing." Finally, on August 25, 2017, the Myanmar military responded to a rebel attack on police posts with fierce and indiscriminate violence against Rohingya men, women, and children. International actors have confirmed at least 6700 Rohingya have been killed, including 730 children under the age of five.
At least 288 villages have been destroyed.
Since August, more than 688,000 Rohingya have fled into neighboring Bangladesh. Many arrived in Bangladesh with open gunshot wounds and shrapnel in their skin. They have recounted harrowing stories of the attacks on their villages and families. The flood of Rohingyas from Myanmar is being called "the fastest growing refugee crisis in the world."
A Humanitarian Crisis of the Young
Estimates are that more than 400,000 of the refugees fleeing Myanmar are children. Six out of ten new arrivals are children. Thousands of children are separated from their families. Many babies are being born on the journey from Myanmar or in established camps and settlements. These babies are stateless, considered neither Burmese or Bengali. Without the simple but critical document - a birth certificate - children are denied education, medical care, and the most fundamental rights.
Human Trafficking and Exploitation
The Rohingya refugee crisis cannot be truly understood without acknowledging the prevalence of sex trafficking, exploitation, and early marriage. "Rohingya children, women and men are targeted by traffickers who seek to exploit them in various situations including the sex industry, as unpaid domestic help, and in other forms of bonded labour. There is no single solution to ending trafficking and it is vital that aid agencies and the authorities work together to build skills and share information about this extremely serious issue,” said IOM counter trafficking specialist Emmy Nurmila Sjarijono.
Trafficking gangs in Bangladesh have existed before the recent influx of Rohingya refugees, but now the sheer numbers are creating a serious risk for vulnerable girls and families. Desperate families are also offering their children into bonded labor, particularly in nearby fishing markets.
It is imperative for anyone interacting with Rohingya refugees to maintain an awareness of this ongoing crisis and work with other NGOs, police, and magis to ensure that children are protected from all forms of exploitation.