SEATTLE — Providing a sanctuary for Myanmar refugees, camps in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, are serving as a saving grace for the traumatized families fleeing the Rakhine State.
While the Bangladesh authorities have been praised for their immediate response and installation of the refugee camps, an array of medical and social issues such as malnutrition, disease, poor sanitation, drinking water access and providing education have arisen in the densely populated camps. Several organizations such as UNICEF are combating these issues as more refugees arrive, providing humanitarian aid to Myanmar refugees.
Forced to seek refuge from widespread organized violence, the Rohingya people, 60 percent of whom are children, have fled their homes in Myanmar. The violence is the result of religious persecution against the Muslim minority group by the Myanmar government.
According to the Council on Foreign Relations, the Myanmar government has been accused of ethnic cleansing after reports arose of murder, rape and arson against the Rohingya people at the hands of Myanmar’s security forces. On February 1, 2018, the Associated Press published reports of several recently discovered Rohingya mass graves. These mass killings by the Myanmar military have pushed the Rohingya people across the border to Bangladesh.
Since August 2017, about 688,000 Rohingya refugees have escaped to safety in Bangladesh. “The Bangladesh authorities deserve enormous credit for all they have done to help these desperate people,” UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Justin Forsyth said in a recent UNICEF press release. “Under their leadership, the worst potential consequences of this human calamity have been avoided despite the incredibly difficult circumstances.”
The difficult circumstances in these camps have been created by the rapid overpopulation of the camps. With insufficient space to house the refugees, issues like poor sanitation practices and a lack of clean water rise to the surface. While UNICEF, along with other organizations, has donated more than 16,000 toilets, about 100 refugees must share a single latrine due to the increasing number of people.
As of December, diphtheria has killed 28 people, more than half of whom were children. To fight the spread of disease, UNICEF has partnered with the Bangladesh government to implement an immunization project. As part of UNICEF’s humanitarian aid to Myanmar refugees:
- More than one million children and adults received cholera immunizations.
- Hundreds of water-bore wells have been dug to supply drinking water.
- About 10,725 people received malnutrition treatments.
Humanitarian aid to Myanmar refugees has not only focused on health, but on education for the Rohingya children as well. With the camp’s infrastructure consisting of overcrowded tents, the ability to provide a regulated education system is hindered. Thousands of children in the camps have been deprived of any education since the forced migration in August.
UNICEF is working to eliminate this problem by implementing education programs within the camps. According to UNICEF’s press release, UNICEF has provided education for more than 80,000 children. However, more humanitarian aid to Myanmar refugees is needed, as roughly 220,000 children are still education deprived.
“The longer these children remain without the chance to learn, the greater the risk that they will miss out on the chance to build a future for themselves and their families,” Forsyth said.
As the complex situation continues to develop in Myanmar, Rohingya refugees wait in camps that can only be successful with the help of humanitarian aid. With reports of gunfire across the border, returning home is currently not a feasible option.
According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, a total of $434 million in aid will be donated through the Humanitarian Response Plan, helping about 1.2 million people. Humanitarian aid to Myanmar refugees has been provided by various organizations and continued support for the Rohingya people is needed to properly maintain the camps.
– Austin Stoltzfus