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Rohingya Refugee Emergency

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

Since 25 August 2017, a massive exodus of over 688,000 Rohingya refugees have fled Myanmar.

Following a concerted campaign of violence by the Myanmar authorities against Rohingya people in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, Rohingya villagers are crossing the border into Bangladesh.

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 are targeting the Rohingya and women and children are being raped and killed.

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

"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.’"

61-year-old msf patient

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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.

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 Southeast 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.

Northern Rakhine state, Myanmar

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, five years later, are still being used and are not properly 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.

ongoing violence and persecution

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.

In October 2016, violence in northern Rakhine state forced 60,000 Rohingya to flee to Bangladesh.

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.

The Rohingya's situation in Bangladesh

Since 25 August, over 688,000 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.

In the first three weeks, we treated more than 250 newly arrived patients with violence-related injuries.

Every day new arrivals are coming into the camps and there are reports of several thousand Rohingya who remain stranded on the beach in Myanmar, desperately looking for a way to flee into Bangladesh.

The reception process for new arrivals is chaotic.

Approximately, 338,000 new arrivals have set up informal shelters in the Kutupalong/Balukhali expansion site; another 236,000 are in spontaneous settlements and other pre-existing camps, and 46,000 are now living within the host community.

Three existing makeshift settlements (Kutupalong, Balukhali and Leda), already extremely overcrowded, have absorbed many of the new arrivals. While new settlements have been established in Burmapara, Chakmarkul, Hakimpara, Jamtoli, Moynarghona and Unchiprang.

However, the absence of roads into the huge densely populated camps means that aid is still not reaching many and the living conditions in the makeshift settlements remain extremely precarious and hazardous, further putting people at risk.

If the situation doesn’t improve, there is the potential of a public health emergency.

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What is MSF doing to help?

MSF's activities in Bangladesh. Click to expand.

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

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

As of the end of January 2018:

  • Health facilities: 15 health posts, three primary health centres      and five in-patient facilities
  • Staff: More than 2,000 national and international staff
  • Patients: More than 200,000 patients have been treated at MSF outpatient facilities and more than 4,900 patients in        inpatient facilities since the end of August 2017. 
  • Health issues: respiratory infections, diarrheal diseases and diphtheria cases.
  • Other activities: water and sanitation (water trucking, hand pump, tube well and latrine installation) and mental health      services. 

As of 22 January, we have treated more than 4,371 cases of diphtheria. We have set up a new specialist diphtheria treatment centre and have treated more than 1,000 admitted patients since 26 December 2017.

The majority of cases are between five and 14 years old. Diphtheria can result in a high number of deaths without the anti-toxin, but only a limited number has arrived in Bangladesh. 

Between September and January, we have treated 3,539 cases of measles across our facilities. Thankfully, cases are decreasing across the camps in Cox's Bazar.

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