One year since over 700,000 Rohingya refugees were forced to flee from Myanmar into Bangladesh, the denial of their legal status, coupled with unacceptable living conditions in haphazard makeshift camps, continues to trap refugees in a cycle of suffering and poor health, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said today.
On 25 August 2017, the Myanmar Army launched renewed ‘clearance operations’ against the Rohingya people causing widespread violence and destruction, and forcing more than 706,000 to flee into neighbouring Bangladesh, says a press release from MSF.
The Rohingyas joined over 200,000 others that had fled to Bangladesh after previous waves of violence, bringing the total number of Rohingya hosted in Cox’s Bazar district to over 919,000, says the release.
In the 12 months since, MSF has provided over 656,200 consultations, equivalent to more than two-thirds of Rohingya refugees, in 19 health facilities or mobile clinics, the release adds.
At first, more than half of MSF’s patients were treated for violence-related injuries, but other health concerns soon emerged that were linked to the overcrowded and unhygienic conditions in the camps.
“It is unacceptable that watery diarrhoea remains one of the biggest health issues we see in the camps,” Pavlo Kolovos, MSF head of mission in Bangladesh, said.
“The infrastructure to meet even the most basic needs of the population is still not in place, and that seriously affects people’s wellbeing,” he added.
While Bangladesh showed extraordinary generosity by opening its doors to the refugees, 12 months on, the Rohingya’s fate remains very uncertain.
Host states in the region deny them any formal legal status, despite the fact that they are refugees and have been made stateless by Myanmar, the MSF release reads.
“We are in a situation where it is difficult to even refer to Rohingya refugees as exactly that,” Kolovos said.
“By refusing to acknowledge the legal rights of Rohingya as refugees, or granting them any other legal status, intervening governments and organisations keep them in a state of acute vulnerability,” he added.
Donors and governments with influence over the Government of Myanmar have failed to show the necessary leadership by not pressuring it to end persecution against the Rohingya, which is the cause of their displacement.
Under the pretext that the Rohingya will soon be returning to Myanmar, the humanitarian response has been hampered by restrictions placed on the provision of long term or substantial aid.
The conditions endured by the Rohingya in the haphazard, makeshift camps fall far short of accepted international humanitarian standards, with the refugees still living in the same temporary plastic and bamboo shelters that were built when they first arrived, MSF says.
One refugee that MSF spoke to described how vulnerable his family felt in the camp: “When it rains we sit together, all our family members, [holding the house down] so the house won’t blow away. At night it is very dark here, we have no lights.”
Considering the level of violence that the Rohingya faced in Myanmar and the trauma this will have caused, services to treat mental health issues and sexual and gender-based violence injuries remain inadequate, according to MSF.
More durable solutions must be found to respond to what is likely to be a protracted period of displacement.
“Pressure must meanwhile continue to be exerted on the Government of Myanmar to halt its campaign against the Rohingya,” Kolovos said.