A Forgotten Crisis: The Rohingya 2 Years Later

Although no longer the subject of international headlines, the Rohingya Muslim crisis continues to worsen each day with no end in sight. As of April, there are more than 910,000 refugees situated in the Cox’s Bazar district of Southern Bangladesh effectively forming the world’s single largest refugee camp. Forced to rely almost entirely on humanitarian assistance, the displaced Rohingya population, now faced with the daunting challenge of surviving the infamous South Asian monsoon season, is more vulnerable than ever to disease, poverty, and the pandemic violence that is responsible for their current state.  

Since 2017, more than 700,000 persecuted Rohingya Muslims have fled Myanmar and settled in Bangladesh. Mismanaged and overpopulated, the main Rohingya encampment in Cox’s Bazar is plagued by sanitation, hygienic, and pollution issues. The government of Bangladesh has refused to grant much of the displaced population refugee status, instead labeling them as Forcibly Displaced Myanmar Nationals. As a result, unregistered refugee camps lack access to clean water, sanitation, and hygiene. Without ready access to private water tankers, refugees are forced to consume contaminated water from rivers or streams, increasing the spread of already prevalent water-borne diseases. Furthermore, with no organized method of sludge management or access to basic hygiene products like hand soap, infections and disease run amok and unchecked. With the monsoon season now in full swing, these issues have only been exacerbated. Since July, nearly 6,000 refugees in Bangladesh have been displaced, and 3,500 shelters have been destroyed. Lacking both the resources and support necessary to escape their current downward spiral, there appears to be no end in sight to the plight of the Rohingya people.  

To make matters worse, Bangladesh as a country can no longer support the amount of refugees for whom they provide a safety. Bangladesh has received high praise for its spontaneous decision to accommodate the massive amount of Rohingya refugees fleeing Myanmar; however, various media outlets put the current cost of maintaining this refugee population at close to 15 million USD, an exorbitant and unsustainable sum of money considering Bangladesh has a fragile economy boasting an annual per capita GDP of just 1,827 USD. Bangladeshi Foreign Secretary Shahidul Haque told the United Nations Security Council that the crisis has gone from “bad to worse.” As the amount of refugees increasingly becomes both a financial and political burden on the government of Bangladesh, his question of why Bangladesh appears to be “paying the price for…  showing empathy to a persecuted minority population” reflects the weariness of the country.

However, hope is not lost for the Rohingya population. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) working in close conjunction with the government of Bangladesh has recently issued more than half-a-million identification cards to refugees in order to ensure better access to basic humanitarian aid. Often the first form of official identification they have ever owned, these cards represent tangible evidence that their lives will take a turn for the better. Monowara Begum, a refugee living in Cox’s Bazar, says, “This identity card has eased my life at the camps. Now, I don’t need to wait a long time in the queue to receive monthly food aids for my family.” Furthermore, in preparation for the upcoming Eid celebrations, 4,000 cattle has been gifted by NGOs and other philanthropic entities to be sacrificed, whose meat will then be distributed among the 210,000 families of refugees providing much needed relief from many who struggle daily to fight starvation. 

Despite the appearance of progress, the dire reality of the situation is that life for the Rohingya is not getting better. During an interview with The Daily Star,Former Director of the UNHCR, Dr. Shamsul Bari, stated that “the problem will continue to fester till it explodes, one way or another, in the not-too-distant future. No one should think that it will be resolved over time.” Unless the Rohingya people are given the opportunity to reclaim their homeland in Myanmar without fear of another ethnic cleansing, the underlying tension and hostility between the Rohingya and the Burmese will endure. As can be seen with the Palestinians and the West Sahrawis, history dictates that no matter how much time passes or aid is given, the Rohingya will never stop dreaming of their stolen homeland. Without a concerted effort from world powers to put pressure on the government of Myanmar, the Rohingya crisis that world and the media has so easily forgotten about, is doomed to be remembered as just that, another humanitarian crisis that the world did nothing about.

Photo Credit: Time Magazine