The Rohingya refugee crisis explained | ActionAid UK

The Rohingya refugee crisis explained

Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya people, a mainly Muslim ethnic minority group, are fleeing violence in Myanmar’s western Rakhine state, coming over the border and arriving as refugees in Bangladesh. Since August 2017 this crisis has escalated, hitting headlines around the world. With the arrival of the monsoon season, now even more lives are at risk. Find out what the Rohingya crisis is about, who the Rohingya people are and how ActionAid is helping.

What is the Rohingya refugee crisis?

Since 25 August 2017, over 650,000 people have crossed the border from Myanmar into Bangladesh since violence erupted in Rakhine State. Most of the Rohingya refugees are now seeking shelter at the southern town of Cox’s Bazar, in Bangladesh, near the border.

The rapid movement of people across the border has put massive strain on existing refugee camps and settlements, and on the host communities who are supporting the new arrivals. Bangladesh is already hosting a further 300,000 Rohingya refugees displaced by previous violence.

New spontaneous settlements have formed and expanded rapidly. The Government of Bangladesh is providing humanitarian support to the Rohingya refugees and ActionAid are on the ground in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, with a full-scale humanitarian response that is reaching over 70,000 Rohingya refugees.

As the rainy season begins in Bangladesh, 100,000 people now face life-threatening risks from mudslides and floods. 

Who are the Rohingya?

The Rohingya are a mainly Muslim ethnic minority group consisting of an estimated 1.1 million people in Myanmar. Around 90–95% of the Rohingya live in northern Rakhine.

According to the Kofi Annan-led Advisory Commission on Rakhine State published in August 2017, some 10% of the world’s stateless people live in Myanmar, and the Rohingya in Rakhine constitute the single biggest stateless community in the world.

The community faces a number of restrictions which affect basic rights and many aspects of their daily lives. Approximately 120,000 people are still left in camps for Internally Displaced People (IDPs).

What is happening in Rakhine state?

In the early hours of 25 August 2017, violence broke out in Rakhine State, Myanmar. The extent and implications remain uncertain. It is not known how many more Rohingya are still trapped in conflict zones of Rakhine state, where needs are unknown and access virtually impossible.

ActionAid is especially concerned about the impact of the violence on women and girls, who are in particular need of protection and assistance. The Government of Myanmar has restricted humanitarian access to Rakhine state. This means that UN agencies and NGOs are unable to provide aid and immediate relief to civilians in desperate need.

Rohingya Refugee Crisis. Balukhali camp and surrounding areas in Cox's Bazar.  Rohingya people who have fled to Bangladesh from Myanmar's Rakhine state since August 25th.

Entire families of Rohingya refugees are living under just one sheet of plastic in Balukhali camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, after fleeing from Myanmar’s Rakhine state

Md. Sariful Islam/ActionAid

Who is most affected by the Rohingya refugee crisis?

ActionAid Bangladesh reports that women are heavily affected, also those with disabilities and the elderly. They also note a high number of unaccompanied children arriving in Bangladesh who either have lost their parents during the displacement or were brought over by their extended family members.

ActionAid staff in Cox’s Bazar, the Bangladeshi city and port where most of the Rohingya are seeking shelter having arrived from the Myanmar border, estimate that approximately 70% of refugees are women and children. The most urgent needs are for shelter, food, water, sanitation and hygiene.

During the monsoon season, hailstorms, heavy wind and lightening could have a devastating impact on families living in the refugee camps. Flooding may prevent thousands of refugees from receiving aid and if toilets and wastewater overflow, the risk of waterborne diseases spreading is high.

Farah Kabir, the Country Director of ActionAid Bangladesh speaking at Balukhali camp in Cox’s Bazar, on 14 September 2017 notes that many thousands of people are living in makeshift tents, made of just a few sheets of recycled plastic and bamboo frames  - and they are living with their entire family. There is still limited access to electricity, washing facilities or sanitation.

ActionAid appreciates the Government of Bangladesh for having the border open with Myanmar and encourages it to continue ensuring the safe passage of Rohingya people fleeing the violence, as well as the people of Bangladesh who are hosting and supporting the refugees with food, shelter and other aid upon arrival.

What is ActionAid doing in Bangladesh to help Rohingya refugees?

ActionAid is responding to the crisis in in Mainnerghona refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, where we are delivering a lifesaving humanitarian response to over 70,000 refugees.

Our first response was to deliver emergency food, clean drinking water, and hygiene kits including sanitary protection, soap and clean underwear. We have reached over 40,000 people with food packages, and distributed over 13,000 hygiene kits.

We have given 10,000 people safe drinking water from 20 wells, and built 52 latrines for 6,500 people. In addition 2,000 women and girls have access to 20 bathing spaces, and nearly 11,000 have received information and support in our Women’s Safe Spaces.

Now, with the arrival of the monsoon season, we’re using sand bags and fencing to stabilize areas that are vulnerable to landslides and improving drainage systems to prevent floods reaching shelters, washrooms, and food distribution areas. 

We’re helping people in landslide and flood-prone areas of the camp move to better accommodation, as well as implementing a plan to distribute shelter-strengthening materials. We’re also training a network of volunteers in cyclone and flood response, and raising awareness so the community is aware of the risks. 

How we’re helping Rohingya women and girls

Women and especially mothers have very specific needs, and this is never more evident than during a humanitarian disaster. That’s why ActionAid has built three Women’s Safe Spaces in Cox’s Bazar – centres where mothers can breastfeed in private, receive hygiene kits, emotional support, and where needed access medical referrals. So far, we’ve helped nearly 11,000 women and girls through our Women’s Safe Spaces. We expect this number to increase as we build a further four Safe Spaces in the coming months.  

We’re distributing hygiene kits containing sanitary protection, soap, clean underwear and disinfectant to help women and girls manage their periods with dignity and prevent the spread of waterborne diseases

We have built 52 emergency toilets. These will provide emergency sanitation for 6,500 people.

We have built 20 washing areas for 2000 women and children. These areas are separate to those used by men and are covered on all sides.

We have provided 360 families with solar powered lights and will shortly be distributing solar powered lamps to 36,000 people. This will help women and girls feel safer moving around the camp at night.  

ActionAid is working with women-led committees of refugees in the camps, to ensure the aid we provide is appropriate, meets the needs of women and girls and gets to the people who need it most. Currently 200 refugee women are involved in this committee.

These women-led committees raise awareness about health and hygiene issues, and encourage women and girls to raise concerns and report their experiences of violence. Through these leadership opportunities, ActionAid is supporting women to play an active role in community organisation and participate in decision-making processes

What is ActionAid’s response to the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar?

ActionAid is calling on Aung San Suu Kyi and the Myanmar authorities to give immediate access to humanitarian organisations so they can reach affected areas and provide assistance to civilians in urgent need.

Together with other NGOs we are calling on the national and local authorities in Myanmar to give safe access to UN agencies and international, national and local NGOs.

ActionAid has worked in Myanmar since 2000. Our focus has been to work with marginalised and vulnerable communities across nine states, not including Rakhine State where other international and national NGOs are present. Our priorities include ending violence against women, supporting women to become self-sufficient and training young people to become change makers within their communities.

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Page updated 17 August 2018