Rohingya Refugee Crisis

The Rohingya people are one of the most persecuted minority groups in the world. Find out how we are helping.

A massive exodus of over 706,000 Rohingya refugees have now fled Myanmar since 25 August 2017.

In that month, a concerted campaign of violence was unleashed by the Myanmar authorities against Rohingya people in the country’s Rakhine State. By the end of the year, more than 660,000 people had crossed the border into Bangladesh.

"The military came to our part of town around 6pm and said: ‘Leave the village before 8am tomorrow. Every one that stays will be killed.’"


Those arriving in Bangladesh have shared stories with Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) about their villages being systematically raided and burnt by the Myanmar military.

Mob groups targeted the Rohingya and women and children were raped and killed.

It was one of the largest displacements of people in recent memory, in such a short period of time.

One year on: MSF remains blocked from reaching Rohingya in northern Rakhine State

On 11 August 2017, two weeks prior to the outbreak of violence, MSF lost authorisation from the Myanmar government to carry out medical activities in northern Rakhine.

One year later, MSF is still unable to operate in the area. This raises major concerns about unmet medical and humanitarian needs.

MSF operations manager Benoit De Gryse said: “The lack of sustained independent assessments in northern Rakhine means that no one has a comprehensive picture of the situation on the ground and the medical and humanitarian needs.”

“MSF once again requests the government grant immediate and unfettered access to northern Rakhine to all independent and impartial humanitarian actors, to ensure that the healthcare needs of the population can be evaluated and addressed.”


rohingya crisis quick guide

Who are the Rohingya?

The Rohingya are a stateless ethnic group who have lived for centuries in northeast Myanmar, also known as Burma. They are one of the most persecuted minorities in the world. Due to ongoing violence and persecution, hundreds of thousands of Rohingya have fled to neighbouring countries either by land or boat over the course of many decades. Read more >

The current situation in Bangladesh

Since 25 August, over 706,000 Rohingya refugees have fled from Myanmar into Bangladesh. Their arrival comes on top of hundreds of thousands of other Rohingya who arrived in previous years and were already living in difficult conditions. Read more >

What is MSF doing to help?

More than 2,000 MSF staff – the majority of whom are Bangladeshi nationals – are working in 18 health posts, primary health centres and in-patient facilities in the Cox's Bazar region of Bangladesh. More than 650,000 patients have been treated at MSF facilities since 25 August. Read more >

Who are the Rohingya?

The Rohingya are a stateless ethnic group, the majority of whom are Muslim, who have lived for centuries in the majority Buddhist Myanmar (also known as Burma).

However, Myanmar authorities contest this. They claim the Rohingya are Bengali immigrants who came to Myanmar in the 20th Century.

Prior to the military crackdown in August 2017, roughly 1.1 million Rohingya people lived in the South East Asian country.

Described by the United Nations in 2013 as one of the most persecuted minorities in the world, the Rohingya are denied citizenship under Myanmar law.


Nearly all of the Rohingya in Myanmar live in the western coastal state of Rakhine and are not allowed to leave without government permission.

It is one the poorest states in the country with ghetto-like camps in and around the town of Sittwe. The camps were initially built as temporary structures in 2012 but are still being used and are poorly maintained.

There is a lack of basic services and opportunities for the Rohingya in Myanmar, including freedom of movement, healthcare, state education and civil service jobs.

With over 700,000 Rohingya fleeing targeted violence in northern Rakhine, many areas have been depopulated. Yet there are still 550,000 to 600,000 stateless Rohingya across the state.


MSF had provided healthcare to all communities in northern Rakhine since 1994. At the time operations were suspended on 11 August 2017, MSF was operating four primary healthcare clinics in northern Rakhine – three of which were subsequently burnt down – and was providing over 11,000 primary and reproductive healthcare consultations per month as well as emergency transport and assistance for patients requiring hospitalisation.

MSF maintains a presence in the town of Maungdaw. Despite being unable to run medical activities, our teams continue to hear from the Rohingya community there about the difficulties they face in accessing healthcare.

One person MSF spoke to was forced to seek medical care for their sick mother in Bangladesh. However, unfortunately, she died there.

“We don’t have access to Sittwe or Yangon so the only option is to cross the border to Bangladesh. This is a very risky route. If I could take my mother’s body back to my village and have a funeral next to my father I would be very happy. But that is not going to happen due to the situation of my country. If we had been able to see a specialist here, we wouldn’t have had to go to Bangladesh.”

anonymous rohingya 

Violence and persecution

Due to violence and persecution, hundreds of thousands of Rohingya have fled to neighbouring countries either by land or boat over the course of many decades.

Surveys conducted by MSF in refugee settlements in Bangladesh estimate that at least 9,000 Rohingya died in Myanmar's Rakhine State between 25 August and 24 September 2017. As 71.7 percent of the reported deaths were caused by violence, at least 6,700 Rohingya (by the most conservative estimations) are thought to have been killed, including at least 730 children below the age of five.

In October 2016, during a previous outbreak of violence, 60,000 Rohingya were forced to flee to Bangladesh from northern Rakhine state.

Humanitarian organisations are still blocked from accessing and operating in northern Rakhine. The Government of Myanmar has decided to work with only a select group of organisations, such as the Myanmar Red Cross, in providing aid.

We are urging the Myanmar government for unfettered access to Rakhine State to ensure the impartial delivery of aid to those in need.

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The Rohingya's situation in Bangladesh

Since 25 August 2017, more than 706,000 Rohingya refugees have fled from Myanmar into Bangladesh.

Their arrival comes on top of hundreds of thousands of other Rohingya who arrived in previous years. Combined with the existing Rohingya refugee population, more than 905,000 refugees are now in Bangladesh.

People are continuing to cross the border, though in much smaller numbers. Over 8,000 Rohingya have arrived since the start of the year.

Most Rohingya now live in precarious and overcrowded refugee camps prone to mudslides and flooding. Living conditions for the refugees need to be massively improved with a particular focus on improvements to water and sanitation, shelter and reducing population density.

In current conditions, the risk of people falling ill or being injured is high.

Monsoon season

The first rains and winds have started, with more than 10 landslides recorded up to 14 May 2018, affecting over a thousand shelters and structures.


Emergency preparedness remains a key priority but continues to be hampered by the lack of sufficient useable land while the window for mitigation is quickly closing.

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What is MSF doing to help?

Since 1985, MSF has been present in Bangladesh in both the capital Dhaka and Cox’s Bazar, the coastal border town with Myanmar.

But with this recent and unprecedented influx of people crossing over the border into Bangladesh, we have been forced to massively increase our capacity to respond, launching additional emergency projects in Cox’s Bazar.

In the first six months of the crisis alone, we treated more than 350,000 patients.

MSF Response in 2018

  • Health facilities: 18 health posts, including four hospitals, four primary healthcare centres
  • Staff: More than 2,000 MSF staff, the majority are Bangladeshi nationals
  • Patients: Our teams have carried out over 984,000 consultations and admitted more than 17,225 patients
  • Water and sanitation: Activities include drilling boreholes and tube wells, setting up water distribution systems, trucking in water, desludging old latrines, constructing new sustainable latrines, doing bucket chlorination and distributing domestic water filters. 
  • Health issues: Respiratory infections, diarrhoeal diseases, skin diseases – all related to poor living conditions
  • Other activities: Water and sanitation, mental health and outreach services.

In the past year MSF has treated more than 6,000 people for diphtheria in the Cox’s Bazar district as of the end of April, most of them aged between five and 14 years.

Between September and the end of April, we saw 4,680 cases of measles across all the MSF health facilities. Cases are now decreasing although the outbreak is far from over.

In the past year, we have delivered more than 1,300 babies at MSF facilities in the area. 

Over 17,500 individual and group mental health consultations have been providded by our staff to patients in need. 

We have treated over 500 survivors of sexual and gender-based violence between 25 August and 30 April, between nine and 50 years of age. However, the real figure of SGBV survivors is impossible to determine as we likely only treat a fraction of all cases.

Last reviewed: 2 May 2019

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