The Rohingya refugee crisis explained | ActionAid UK

The Rohingya refugee crisis explained

In August 2017, an estimated 706,000 Rohingya refugees fled violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine State and came to camps like Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh. There is no resultion to the crisis in sight. 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 August 2017, an estimated 706,000 people have crossed the border from Myanmar into Bangladesh after violence erupted in Rakhine State. 

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. 

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 64,000 Rohingya refugees.

It is monsoon and cyclone season, and the camps have been experiencing heavy rains. Without additional support, the lives of the most vulnerable Rohingya refugees are at risk.

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. 

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, as well as 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 60% of refugees are single mothers. The most urgent needs are for shelter, food, water, sanitation and hygiene.

During the monsoon season, hailstorms, heavy wind and lightening put lives at risk. Flooding can 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, said: “One year on, Rohingya women and girls continue to bear the brunt of the refugee crisis. Those we work to support are bearing the physical, and mental scars of what they’ve experienced – including shocking sexual violence, pregnancy through rape, and a painful and dangerous journey to Bangladesh.”

“Today, amid extreme poverty and desperation, women and girls in the camps face intimate partner violence, forced marriage, and the threat of sexual violence. Now more than ever, the international community must listen to these women, who are claiming their rights and calling for a just solution to their plight.

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 64,000 refugees.

  • We’ve distributed 14,486 blankets to 7,893 families
  • With the arrival of the monsoon season, we began 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’ve since helped 1,503 people – 240 families – to move to safer areas to avoid the flood-prone areas of the camps
  • We’ve installed 291 solar street lights
  • We’ve installed 15 water and sanitation service blocks, each consisting of 4 toilets and 2 bathing spaces
  • Working closely with women-led committees in the camps, we’ve provided safe drinking water, food, blankets, dignity kits, alternative cooking fuel and access to washrooms to more than 40,000 refugees. 

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 six 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 more than 15,000 women and girls through our Women’s Safe Spaces. 

We’ve distributed over 40,000 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’ve set up 33 women-led ‘WATCH’ committees to monitor and prevent violence against women and girls and encourage women to access one of the women’s safe spaces.

We’ve provided 7,383 families with solar powered lights. These help women and girls feel safer moving around the camp at night.

We’ve also supported 360 Rohingya women and girls with sewing training, helping them to build a livelihood for the future.

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. 

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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Footnotes

Page updated 24 August 2018