Interviews with health workers who have treated Rohingyas survivor in Bangladesh corroborate allegations of sexual violence by the Myanmar military
A new report from Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) has documented widespread sexual violence committed by the Tatmadaw, the armed forces of Myanmar, and Myanmar security forces against the Rohingyas.
The massive campaign of violence in August 2017 drove more than 720,000 Rohingya into neighbouring Bangladesh.
Doctors, nurses, mental health experts, and other health professionals, who provided direct medical services to Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh camps, gave accounts of the huge physical and psychological toll of sexual and gender-based violence on Rohingya women, girls, men, boys, and transgender and gender fluid people.
The research builds on PHR’s work documenting human rights violations in Myanmar for more than 15 years.
Following the August 2017 “clearance operation” carried out by Myanmar security forces and Rakhine Buddhist civilians in Rohingya villages across Myanmar’s northern Rakhine State, PHR teams conducted forensic examinations of survivors in what is now the world’s largest refugee camp in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar.
The research teams gathered qualitative and quantitative data documenting the grave human rights violations committed against the Rohingya by Myanmar armed forces, including long-term disabilities resulting from the 2017 attack.
PHR’s new report, “Sexual Violence, Trauma, and Neglect: Observations of Health Care Providers Treating Rohingya Survivors in Refugee Camps in Bangladesh,” presents qualitative data gathered through interviews with 26 health care workers from a variety of humanitarian organizations — who provided direct care to Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh for some period between August 2017 and August 2020.
PHR sought the perspective of health care workers in order to provide an independent corroboration of the patterns of violence sustained by the Rohingya community and to avoid potentially re-traumatizing interviews with survivors.
Myanmar has told China it is willing to take back Rohingya refugees currently living in Bangladesh, according to the Bangladeshi Foreign Ministry.
In a statement, the ministry said China’s top diplomat Wang Yi conveyed this information to his Bangladeshi counterpart AK Abdul Momen in a phone call on Thursday night.
“Chinese Foreign Minister and State Councilor Wang Yi said that recently Myanmar had once again assured that the displaced Rohingya would be returned to Myanmar,” said the statement issued on Friday.
Myanmar informed China that it will soon hold talks with Bangladesh on the repatriation of Rohingya refugees, it added.
Wang said Beijing has remained in touch with Myanmar on the Rohingya crisis, assuring Momen that envoy-level talks between Dhaka and Naypyitaw will be held after Myanmar’s elections in November, the statement said.
That will be followed by a tripartite minister-level meeting between China, Bangladesh, and Myanmar, the statement quoted Wang as saying.
The Chinese and Bangladeshi diplomats also discussed other issues, including coronavirus vaccine efforts and post-pandemic economic recovery.
Rohingya: ‘World’s most persecuted people’
Bangladesh is currently host to over 1.2 million Rohingya, who have been described by the UN as the world’s most persecuted people.
According to Amnesty International, more than 750,000 Rohingya refugees, mostly women and children, crossed into Bangladesh after Myanmar forces launched a crackdown on the minority Muslim community in August 2017.
The Rohingya have faced heightened fears of attack since dozens were killed in communal violence in 2012.
Since Aug. 25, 2017, nearly 24,000 Rohingya Muslims have been killed by Myanmar’s state forces, according to a report by the Ontario International Development Agency (OIDA).
More than 34,000 Rohingya were thrown into fires, over 114,000 more beaten, and as many as 18,000 Rohingya women and girls were raped by Myanmar’s army and police, said the OIDA report, titled Forced Migration of Rohingya: The Untold Experience.
UNHCR appeals for solidarity as it hosts with the US, UK and the EU a donor conference aimed at closing a ‘significant funding gap’.
Less than half the $1bn in aid meant for Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh this year has been raised
The lack of money has made it difficult for them to provide the food, basic healthcare support the Rohingya need.
The UN refugee agency or UNHCR said on Thursday as it announced plans for a large donor conference next week.
The online event will take place on October 22 in an effort to close a “significant funding gap”.
“Solidarity with the Rohingya people means more than just meeting their basic needs.
Filippo Grandi, the UN high commissioner for Refugees, said in a statement.
“Refugees, like everyone else, have a right to a life of dignity and the chance to build a safe and stable future.”
In 2017, a brutal crackdown by the military forced some 750,000 Rohingya to flee across the border into Bangladesh
In violence that is now the subject of genocide charges against Myanmar at the UN’s top court at The Hague.
They joined an earlier wave of Rohingya who had fled earlier violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine state and were already living in camps close to the border.
Myanmar does not recognise the mostly Muslim Rohingya as citizens.
Even though the minority group has lived in the country for generations.
The UN agency said that it will press for more “sustainable solutions” to the crisis.
Including the “voluntary, safe, dignified and sustainable return” of the Rohingya refugees to Myanmar.
The UNHCR did not say how much more money it hopes to raise at the conference.
Bangladesh requested the Philippines to Global political pressure on Myanmar together with all ASEAN members to take back the Rohingyas.
He paid a farewell call on Foreign Minister Dr Momen at the State Guest House Padma.
Radical elements can take advantage of the displacement and “regional and international security would certainly be jeopardised”.
Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen made the request through Ambassador of the Philippines Vicente Vivencio T. Bandillo on Sunday.
At the meeting, the Forign Minister sought Philippines’ support on voluntary and sustainable repatriation of the Rohingyas to their place of origin in Rakhine State, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Dr Momen noted that the Philippines enjoys close ties with Myanmar that the latter should leverage its influence to resolve the Rohingya crisis.
To allay the fear of the Rohingyas, he said, Bangladesh has long been proposing formation of an ASEAN-led nonmilitary civilian observer group.
Myanmar is not coming forward positively to implement this proposal.
The Ambassador assured the minister of doing the needful for completing the MoU soon.
He paid a farewell call on Foreign Minister Dr Momen at the State Guest House Padma.
The onset of meaningful community self-help and social support for the Rohingya people. In spite of their tragic nature and adverse effects on mental health, emergencies are also an opportunity to build better mental health systems as they are instrumental to the overall well-being, functioning and resilience of individuals and their communities, to help them recover from crisis.
WHO is the leading agency in providing technical advice on mental health in emergency situations. For an effective response to emergencies, WHO endorsed interagency mental health and psychosocial support guidelines recommending services at different levels which include psychological first aid, basic clinical mental health care, psychological interventions, protection and promotion of rights and, finally, community self-help and social support.
In August 2017 as the plight of the Rohingya people became known to the world, humanitarian assistance arrived from all parts of the world in various ways. Max Frieder, the co-founder and co-executive director of Artolution, a non-profit international organization that brings community-based public arts education to crisis-affected populations, arrived in Cox’s Bazar certain that he would find in the refugee camps skilled artists to jointly develop a meaningful project. He was the pioneer of community self-help and social support in the Rohingya camps.
“We deliver long-term public art education programs to the world’s most vulnerable children and families led by local teaching artists in refugee camps. Our Rohingya Artolution team has created scalable solutions to delivering community resilience building and psychosocial development programs for the first time in the history of the Rohingya culture”, explains Max Frieder.
UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and partner organizations have further intensified their COVID-19 response in the Rohingya refugee camps in the Cox’s Bazar area of Bangladesh, following the first confirmed case of coronavirus among the refugee population yesterday. Since March, UNHCR and partners have been supporting the Government of Bangladesh primarily in COVID-19 preparation and prevention efforts. With this first confirmed case, response mechanisms have now been activated and will require additional international support.
According to the Government of Bangladesh, one Rohingya refugee has tested positive for COVID-19 in the Kutupalong refugee settlement in Bangladesh. In addition, one member of the local Bangladeshi host community has also tested positive. Both had approached health facilities run by humanitarian partners, where samples were taken. These were subsequently tested in the IEDCR Field Laboratory in Cox’s Bazar.
Following the laboratory confirmation, Rapid Investigation Teams have been activated to investigate both cases, initiate isolation and treatment of patients as well as tracing contacts, quarantine and testing of contacts as per WHO guidelines.
Testing began in the Cox’s Bazar District in early April. As of yesterday (14 May), 108 refugees have been tested. response
There are serious concerns about the potentially severe impact of the virus in the densely populated refugee settlements sheltering some 860,000 Rohingya refugees. Another 400,000 Bangladeshis live in the surrounding host communities. These populations are considered to be among the most at risk globally in this pandemic. No effort must be spared if higher fatality rates are to be avoided in overcrowded sites with limited health and water and sanitation infrastructure.
On October 12, Monday, international human rights Community, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch community, claimed to have gained conclusive evidence about indiscriminate attacks against civilians inside Myanmar’s Rakhine State.
The groups have collected testimonies, visual evidence, and analysis of satellite imagery to prove that violence against the persecuted Rohingya community has continued. In the last week, as many as nine Rohingyas lost their lives in separate incidents in Myanmar and Bangladesh, where thousands of Rohingya refugees now live in camps.
On October 6, two minors belonging to the community were killed during a gunfight between the militant group Arakan Army and the Myanmar military (Tatmadaw), northeast of the Pyin Shae village in Rakhine State. According to locals, clashes erupted hours after 15 civilians from the Buthidaung township were conscripted by Tatmadaw to be used as human shields in a terrain believed to be mined by militants. Military spokesperson Major General Zaw Min Tun categorically denied that the soldiers had fired upon civilians. He blamed the Arakan Army for the casualties, adding that the soldiers had reached the area to investigate, only after hearing the artillery blasts.
A day earlier, on October 5, three Rohingya laborers were allegedly gunned down by patrolling soldiers near a bridge in Minbya township in Rakhine State. The civilians have been identified as Nu Mahmad (40), Noru Salam (50) and Mar Dawlar (45). All three belonged to Latma village and were moving in a boat towards the town market.
953,000 people of Cox’s Bazar are now eligible to receive coronavirus-related services from UN-led international community
The 2020 joint response plan (JRP) has been updated with an addendum to provide Covid-19 related services to more Bangladeshis in Cox’s Bazar, multiple sources have told Dhaka Tribune.
On March 3, United Nations agencies and NGO partners launched the 2020 JRP for the Rohingya humanitarian crisis.
The appeal aimed to raise US$877 million to respond to the needs of approximately 855,000 Rohingya refugees from Myanmar and over 444,000 vulnerable Bangladeshis in the communities generously hosting them.
Following the outbreak of the coronavirus, a necessity was felt to update the JRP to fight the virus in order to protect the Rohingyas living in 34 congested camps and the vulnerable host communities, said the sources, adding that an addendum was then added to the JRP to make it worth $1.06 billion from $877 million.
The updated JRP will enable the provision of Covid-19 related services to 509,000 people from Cox’s Bazar in addition to 444,000 people from the host communities included in the original JRP.
An official of the Inter-Sector Coordination Group, which coordinates the humanitarian activities with respect to the Rohingya crisis, made it clear that the additional 509,000 Bangladeshis are only eligible for services related to Covid-19.
“Under the 2020 JRP, the target is to fulfill the needs of 855,000 Rohingyas. It also aims to meet the needs of 444,000 people belonging to the host communities. The people of the host communities will get support in accordance with their necessities,” he said.
However, he added: “The additional 509,000 considered by the addendum will only receive services related to Covid-19.”
“Undoubtedly, it has been a great help for the people of Cox’s Bazar. With this addendum, more than one third of the population of Cox’s Bazar district can receive quality health care,” said another official.
More than 20 percent of Bangladesh’s Rohingya refugees are struggling with mental health issues, a grim result of the abuse and trauma suffered in Myanmar, an official from the World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Saturday.
The statistics were shared on World Mental Health Day, which is marked on Oct. 10 every year, and seeks to highlight the plight of nearly a million Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar, the world’s largest refugee camp.
According to data from the Ministry of Health and shared by the WHO, there were 14,819 consultations for mental health conditions registered by the district health department among the Rohingya in 2019.
From January to now the figure has jumped to nearly 20,000.
Most cases were addressed by healthcare centers at the camps, where Rohingya patients were given counseling and treatment.
“In the aftermath of a crisis, one person in five (22 percent) is estimated to have depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia,” WHO spokesperson Catalin Bercaru told Arab News. “The psychosocial and social impacts of emergencies may be acute in the short term, but they can also undermine the long-term mental health and psychosocial well-being of the affected populations.”
The Rohingya have endured decades of abuse and trauma in Myanmar, beginning in the 1970s when hundreds of thousands sought refuge in Bangladesh.
Between 1989 and 1991 an additional 250,000 fled when a military crackdown followed a popular uprising and Burma was renamed Myanmar. In 1992, Bangladesh and Myanmar agreed on a repatriation deal that led to thousands of Rohingya returning to Rakhine state. The exodus to Bangladesh resumed a few years ago.
While the refugee crises created by the conflict in Afghanistan and the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingyas in Myanmar may appear to be disconnected, they are both part of a major migration upheaval in South Asia that the COVID-19 pandemic has only complicated. Already living on the margins of society, Afghan and Rohingya refugees have been hit particularly hard by COVID-19. Host countries and the international community need to do more to help alleviate the unique challenges that the pandemic has caused for both of these populations.
Before the pandemic, Afghan refugees in Pakistan already faced disadvantages in access to education, healthcare, banking and financial resources, and property. They have also been subjected to police brutality and arbitrary detention by security forces. While Pakistan does technically have birth right citizenship, this right has been routinely denied to the children of Afghan refugees born in Pakistan, and Prime Minister Imran Khan backed away from his original plan to revise this policy due to political backlash. Given the additional uncertainty around whether these children may be granted Afghan citizenship (many have never set foot in Afghanistan), the risk of statelessness is enormous and carries serious repercussions for the already dire legal and human rights situation faced by Afghan refugees.
The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated these challenges. Though Islamabad lifted its lockdown measures, the initial shutdown caused major disruptions to the day labor sector in which many Afghans work. Restrictions on public gatherings limit already scarce economic opportunities, demonstrated by the closing of a major vegetable market in Islamabad that employed many of the Afghans residing in a nearby refugee camp. Additionally, the constant threat of deportation continues to have a profound effect on the psychological health of Afghan refugees who are now dealing with the additional anxiety of pandemic-related uncertainty. Additionally, the initial closing of key Afghanistan-Pakistan border crossings meant that asylum seekers fleeing violence in Afghanistan would find seeking refuge in Pakistan much more difficult and dangerous, making them significantly more vulnerable to human traffickers and exploitation by criminal networks.