As developing countries around the world scramble to secure enough COVID-19 vaccines to inoculate their own citizens, vulnerable refugee populations like the Rohingya remain at especially high risk. Over 1 million Rohingya refugees have fled Myanmar from successive waves of violence against the Muslim minority ethnic group since the 1990s.
Most have landed in Bangladesh, corralled into overcrowded camps around Cox’s Bazar, as well as the previously uninhabited island of Bhasan Char. Others have set sail on leaky vessels to Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand, or made their way to India and Pakistan. While the governments of Bangladesh and Malaysia have pledged to vaccinate the refugees, they have yet to release detailed plans on how they plan to do so. This constitutes a significant risk not only to the refugees themselves, but also to the citizens of these countries.
Cox’s Bazar, the region in Bangladesh where most Rohingya refugee camps are located, has so far managed to fend off the worst-case scenario. The World Health Organization (WHO) has confirmed approximately 400 cases and 10 deaths out of more than 866,000 Rohingya in the 10 square miles of Cox’s Bazar. However, testing efforts have fallen short. WHO has collected only 30,000 tests in Cox’s Bazar since March 2020 – only around 3 percent of the population there. Some Rohingya in the camps fear that they might be detained or possibly killed if they show COVID-19 symptoms.
Another public health risk is that the government of Bangladesh has shipped over 7,000 Rohingya, some forcibly, to Bhasan Char, an uninhabited island in the Bay of Bengal which lacks basic services, including running water. Without health infrastructure on the island, medical emergencies will require a three-hour journey from the island to the mainland. The island is also frequently battered by cyclones and prone to severe flooding, which would further exacerbate public health challenges for the Rohingya who are forced to live there.
Bangladesh is under “no obligation” to shelter 81 Muslim Rohingya refugees adrift for almost two weeks on the Andaman Sea and being assisted by neighbouring India, Bangladesh foreign minister AK Abdul Momen said.
While feeding the refugees and giving them water, India was not planning to take them ashore.
But Momen told the Reuters news agency late on Friday that Bangladesh expects India, the closest country, or Myanmar, the Rohingya’s country of origin, to accept them.
“They are not Bangladesh nationals and in fact, they are Myanmar nationals. They were found 1,700km (1,100 miles) away from the Bangladesh maritime territory and therefore, we have no obligation to take them,” said Momen, who is in the United States.
“They were located 147km (91 miles) away from Indian territory, 324km (201 miles) away from Myanmar,” he said by phone, adding that other countries and organisations should take care of the refugee.Indian foreign ministry officials were not immediately available for comment.
New Delhi did not sign the 1951 Refugee Convention, which spells out refugee rights and state responsibilities to protect them.
Nor does it have a law protecting refugees, though it currently hosts more than 200,000, including some Rohingya.
More than one million Rohingya refugees from predominantly Buddhist Myanmar are living in teeming camps in Muslim-majority Bangladesh, including tens of thousands who fled after Myanmar’s military conducted a deadly crackdown in 2017.
Traffickers often lure Rohingya refugees with promises of work in Southeast Asian countries like Malaysia.
The United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, expressed alarm this week over the missing boat.
The refugees have been drifting in international waters after leaving southern Bangladesh on February 11 in the hope of reaching Malaysia.
On Saturday, they were under the aid and surveillance of India as officials were holding talks to return them to Bangladesh.
The boat, which sailed from the massive Cox’s Bazar refugee camp, was carrying 56 women, eight girls, 21 men and fiv
Many of the survivors, according to Indian officials, were sick and suffering from extreme dehydration, having run out of food and water after the boat’s engine failed four days into their journey.
The UN refugee agency (UNHCR), on Monday, called for immediate efforts to search and rescue a group of Rohingya refugees, who have been adrift on the Andaman Sea for over a week.The precise number and location of the refugees is unknown, and there are reports that many may have already lost their lives, Indrika Ratwatte, Director of the UNHCR Regional Bureau for Asia and the Pacific, located in Bangkok, said in news release. The last information of distress was received on Saturday evening, local time.
The refugees are believed to have departed from Cox’s Bazar and Teknaf, southern Bangladesh, about ten days ago, and the vessel has reported been adrift after the engine broke down, more than a week ago, according to UNHCR.
Refugees have reported that the vessel has been out of food and water for several days now, and that many of the passengers are ill, it added.
“Many are in a highly vulnerable condition and are apparently suffering from extreme dehydration. We understand that a number of refugees have already lost their lives, and that fatalities have risen over the past 24 hours”, added Mr. Ratwatte.
The UNHCR official appealed to all governments in deploy their search and rescue capacities and promptly disembark those in distress, stressing that “as always, saving lives must be the priority”.
“In line with international obligations under the law of the sea and longstanding maritime traditions, the duty to rescue persons in distress at sea should be upheld, irrespective of nationality or legal status”, he urged.
UNHCR stands ready to support governments across the region in providing any necessary humanitarian assistance and quarantine measures in the coming days for those disembarked, in line with public health protocols, Mr. Ratwatte said.
Rohingya Myanmar’s coup has brought thousands on to the streets, but in 2017 they were empty.For almost three weeks there have been mass protests on the streets of Myanmar. On 1 February, the Tatmadaw, or military, moved against the government of Aung San Suu Kyi, claiming fraud in last November’s elections, which her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), comprehensively won.
Since then, civil servants and teachers, bus drivers and garment workers have taken to the streets. Myanmar’s main city, Yangon, was brought to a standstill by a “broken-down” rally, where drivers left their cars parked across the roads, with bonnets open. There are even stories of police having joined in.
The nationwide defiance of the military coup has been courageous and impressive, and echoes similar protests in Russia, Belarus and elsewhere. But, as welcome and important as these demonstrations are, they also lead to a difficult and uncomfortable question.
Where was all the marching and shouting and defiance over the past four years as the Tatmadaw organised a brutal campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya people, razing their villages, killing thousands and forcing hundreds of thousands to flee to neighbouring Bangladesh?
The Rohingya, Muslims who live mostly in the north-west state of Rakhine, bordering Bangladesh, are the most persecuted of Myanmar’s many ethnic groups. Though Rohingya have lived in Rakhine for generations, they are treated, officially and unofficially, as foreigners. The authorities refer to them as “Bengalis”, and the 2014 census refused to include Rohingya as an ethnic category.The military junta that came to power in Myanmar in 1962 (or Burma as it was then) fomented hatred against the Rohingya as a means of cementing support. The latest and most vicious drive began in 2017. Under the pretext of a campaign against “terrorists”, the army implemented a programme of ethnic cleansing, which many deem as possessing “genocidal intent”, a clampdown as brutal as China’s suppression of the Uighurs.
Different food items meant to be consumed by the persecuted Rohingyas sheltered in Cox’s Bazar are being openly sold illegally in areas adjacent to the camps. A top official of the Office of the Refugee, Relief and Repatriation Commissioner, the highest government body on the ground to deal with the Rohingya crisis, including the camp management, admitted to Dhaka Tribune the existence of such an illegal practice and that his organization is working on to stop it.
As this correspondent and others disembarked ships from Saint Martin Island to jetty at Damdamia in Teknaf on Wednesday evening, numerous places were found with different food items like cereals and biscuits being sold. The packet items were clearly marked with the names of organizations like USAID and WFP.
These are openly sold in other places in Teknaf and Ukhiya upazilas.
“We bought these items from the Rohingyas,” a teenaged boy said to a question.
In the countrywide protests against the coup, nobody is talking about the future of the persecuted Rohingya minority. I have been living in a refugee camp here since 2017, after the campaign of murder, rape and arson by the military in Myanmar forced more than 750,000 people from the Rohingya community to flee our homes in Rakhine State. Since the military coup in Myanmar on Feb.
“The Rohingyas sell it to us and we earn some money with this,” said a middle-aged man.
Since these items are cheap, people were seen buying them.
“I bought because it’s cheap,” said a person in his early fifty.
Interestingly, the illegal activity is being done right in front of the law enforcement personnel.
“We don’t have any order in this regard,” said a policeman.
“I’ll have to admit that this illegal activity is taking place. We are keeping an eye on this,” Additional RRRC Mohammad Shamsud Douza said.
“We’re working on this to find the ways to stop this,” he said.
In response to the needs of Rohingya refugees, IOM is working towards strengthening security and social cohesion between Rohingya refugees and the host communities in Cox’s Bazar District through its Safe Shelter programme, funded by the Government of Japan. Recently, Pradip’s house has been upgraded through this programme—one of 1,000 families to have received the same type of support.
When the monsoon season started in Cox’s Bazar last year, boatman Pradip Shah Das in Teknaf Upazila and his family were forced to take shelter at their neighbor’s house. Their house was badly damaged in the torrential rain. “The house where I used to live was ooded. When the storm started, we had to find shelter elsewhere,” recounted 37-year-old Pradip.
During the reporting period, IOM provided cash grants to upgrade their shelters to 1,000 host community families identied and assessed as vulnerable in Teknaf. Teams organized a technical training for 450 local carpenters on shelter improvement and maintenance that incorporates Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) features, to support families with the construction of their shelters.
The objective of the training was to use the knowledge acquired to enable beneficiaries to build disaster-resilient shelters after purchasing shelter upgrade materials. Technical supervision of the upgradation work is ongoing to meet the requirements of the second and third tranches of the cash grants.During the reporting period, IOM completed the distribution of the first tranche of conditional and unrestricted cash grants for 1,000 households in the host community.
A total of 561 families also received their second and 391 families received a third tranche for their shelter upgradation in Sabrang and Nhila Unions. “Now I have a new house which is stronger than the previous one,” Pradip said. “During disasters, I used to take shelter at other people’s houses, but now people can take shelter at my house.
The existing atmosphere within Myanmar throws a shadow of complete ambiguity. And hope is bleak for the upcoming future. Though many spectators believe the democratic government hardly exercised any of its egalitarian power, the Rohingya issue has been looming large in the background. The sudden seizure of power by the military government has thrown the fate of the Rohingyas, not only in the Rakhine state but in neighbouring Bangladesh, in question.
Many, even the Rohingyas themselves, had hoped for this issue to cease with the heralding of a new democratic government in Myanmar. However, on the contrary, after the National League for Democracy (NLD) government came to power in 2016, after decades of military and quasi military rule, the problem has more or less remained the same or rather has escalated. There are quite a few reasons for this. There has also been no policy to integrate the Rohingyas into Myanmar society in a way that does not upset the majority-Buddhist nationalists. Like the nationalists, the government also seems to view the Rohingyas as ‘outsiders’ to their country. In addition, the attempt of NLD to be hand-in-glove with the army has been quite evident throughout its rule.
In any case, the last major clampdown by the ‘Tatmadaw’ (the Myanmar army) on the Rohingya population in 2017 led to a massive exodus of more than 700,000 Rohingyas to Bangladesh; this movement caused a sharp increase in the Rohingya population of Bangladesh to around 866,457. This has caused worry and discord between the two nations since the repatriation efforts have seemed half-hearted and ineffective till now.
Recently, in a virtual dialogue, both Myanmar and Bangladesh in mediation with China agreed to begin the repatriation process later this year. The Myanmar democratic government named only a little more than 300 Hindus they are willing to take back in the camp areas. The question of the rest of the majority was not discussed. The current military coup throws the existing dynamics in chaos.
Rohingya refugees in Malaysia say they have been “left in the dark” over their future after last week’s military coup in Myanmar.
On Feb. 1, armed forces chief Min Aung Hlaing overthrew Myanmar’s government, seizing Aung San Suu Kyi and other leaders, before declaring a state of emergency and announcing military rule over the country for a year.
Mohamed Ayub, a 31-year-old Rohingya refugee from Klang, told Arab News that the coup “came as a shock” and that the refugee community had not received any updates from Myanmar since the overthrow.
“We aren’t stuck here as we are seeking shelter, but the situation will get more difficult for us even with help from a non-governmental organization,” he said.
He added that his family members were “safe” in Myanmar and there was nothing else he could do “except wait for some updates.”Ayub arrived in Malaysia on a boat eight years ago. Due to the risks of the journey, he decided to travel alone, to pursue a better life for all, leaving behind his father and siblings in Myanmar.
Today, the Rohingya refugee considers the Southeast Asian nation home.
However, with the Rohingya becoming increasingly prominent in the country, certain sections of society have begun to view them as a social, economic and security threat.
While Malaysia is not a signatory of the 1951 Refugee Convention or its subsequent 1967 Protocol, it currently hosts 100,000 Rohingya refugees, the largest in the ASEAN and the fourth-highest globally.
Most the Rohingya fled Myanmar in 2017 due to conflicts in the Rakhine state.
Over the years, the Rohingya community in Malaysia has faced discrimination, a recent report by Tenaganita, a non-governmental organization that works to protect migrant rights, said.
The report added: “In Malaysia, the previous welcoming tone toward refugees has now shifted, with heightened hate speech and xenophobic treatment.”When the country reporting a spike in coronavirus cases, most of the infections were traced to the Rohingya community with “their poor living conditions blamed for being one of the reasons for the widespread disease,” Malaysian Heath Director-General Mohd Noor Hisham Abdullah said.
The repatriation of Rohingya refugees to Myanmar from camps in neighboring Bangladesh is becoming increasingly difficult as the military tightens its grip on the country after overthrowing the elected government .Rohingya Muslims were driven out of Rakhine State in August 2017 by the military who attacked them and torched their villages. Army generals do not consider the persecution of the Rohingya a crime and are opposed to an international tribunal seeking to indict those responsible.
Rohingya refugees, who are stateless despite having settled in Rakhine State for many generations, feel their safety will not be guaranteed after repatriation.
“The coup is tragic and terrible,” Mohammad, a Rohingya Muslim living in a refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar in southeastern Bangladesh, told Nikkei. “If I can get citizenship in my country, I want to go back. But I don’t know when that will be.”
Bangladesh and Myanmar have agreed to encourage the Rohingya to return voluntarily, but few refugees are willing to do so. Buddhists are the majority in Myanmar.
The International Criminal Court in The Hague announced in November 2019 that it would launch a formal investigation into the persecution of the Rohingya and in September last year, it arrested two soldiers. Min Aung Hlaing, Myanmar’s commander-in-chief, may also be held accountable.
Elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who was arrested by the military on Feb. 1, admitted at the International Court of Justice, another tribunal in The Hague, in December 2019 that “it cannot be ruled out that disproportionate force was used by members of the defense services in some cases in disregard of international humanitarian law.” The testimony as the de facto head of the state sent shock waves through the military.
Bangladesh had reluctantly taken in Rohingya refugees, who now number around 1 million in border camps, but had been in negotiations with Myanmar for their repatriation. In a statement after the coup, the Bangladesh Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressed hope those negotiations would continue.
The Daily Star, an English-language newspaper in Bangladesh, reported on Feb. 3 that the government has tightened border controls to prevent more Rohingya refugees from entering the country.
The Bangladesh government began relocating the refugees to a remote island, Bhasan Char, in the Bay of Bengal in December 2020, citing security issues. A total of 5,000 refugees have been sent there so far — the goal is to transfer a total of 100,000 people.
The horrible scenes of hungry, tired and almost lifeless Rohingya refugees entering Bangladesh shocked the world in 2017. Even today, many Rohingyas are attempting to make the journey from Myanmar to Bangladesh, believing that a foreign land (Bangladesh) would be safer than their homes (Myanmar). Although they aren’t migrating in large numbers now unlike what they did in 2017, their journey today is as unsafe, horrifying and terrible as it was three years earlier.
It is important to remind the international community, global civil society – as well as those human rights groups and humanitarian organizations not associated with the Rohingya crisis – about how horrible and terrible the journey was.
When they were in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, the Rohingyas first-hand witnessed how the Myanmar army, popularly known as Tatmadaw, came to their villages and burned down their homes into ashes. The fellow Rohingyas were slaughtered right in front of them. Their days turned dark; their nights darker. These surviving victims had no option but to flee together from their native land with the very limited food they were able to carry.
Even when they ran out of food, they had to continue their journey empty stomach so that they were able to reach to the safety, which, during the time, became their only aim in life. On many occasions, they had to walk for several days to the river. Many had to swim across the River Naf to reach close to Bangladesh.
Initially, the Bangladesh Border Guard (BGB) attempted to stop them from crossing the border, though many secretly passed the border without being detected by the BGB personnel. Subsequently, the Bangladeshi government decided to provide them refuge on humanitarian ground until they could be repatriated to their homeland.Although they got refuge in a comparatively safer territory, they remained traumatized. Some of these victims, who used to reside at distant locations from one another in Rakhine State, were reunited at some point of time later in Bangladesh; but others remain separated even today. Many do not know whether their loved ones are alive or dead, and whether or not they were able to cross the Bangladesh border.