ECHO Factsheet – The Rohingya crisis – May 2017

Facts & Figures EU humanitarian aid *:

Myanmar/Burma 2010-2017: Over € 76.5 million
Bangladesh 2007-2017: Close to € 35 million
Thailand and Indonesia: Since 2013: Over € 1.1 million

Total funding Over € 112 million

  • The figures refer to European Commission humanitarian aid only, and do not include contributions by EU Member States.

Key messages

  • The Rohingya crisis is a human rights crisis with serious humanitarian consequences. In Myanmar/Burma, the Rohingya have very limited access to basic services and viable livelihood opportunities due to strict movement restrictions. The statelessness of and the discrimination against the Rohingya must urgently be addressed.

  • The Government must prioritize inter-communal dialogue, mediation and conflict resolution in Rakhine State, where tensions between ethnic communities are widespread, with community segregation institutionalised.

  • While international organisations help meet emergency humanitarian needs, it is crucial that both the Union (national) and Rakhine State (regional) governments address the basic needs of the affected population while promoting durable solutions, in line with international standards, and stimulate inclusive and sustainable development for all communities.

  • Safe and unhindered access to populations in need should be granted to humanitarian aid organisations, not only in Myanmar/Burma, but in all countries of Asia where the Rohingya people are seeking asylum and protection.

  • The crisis has a wider regional dimension, with record numbers of Rohingya fleeing to neighbouring countries. Following violent incidents in Rakhine in October 2016, more than 74 000 Rohingyas have fled across the border in to Bangladesh. Earlier between 2014 and 2015, some 94 000 people (many of whom Rohingya) also departed irregularly on precarious boat journeys, often falling prey to human trafficking and ending up in modern-day slavery.

Humanitarian situation and needs

Rakhine State in Western Myanmar/Burma is home to at least 800 000 Muslims, most of whom self-identify as Rohingya. For decades they have suffered legal and social discrimination. While there are historical economic relations with the Buddhist Rakhine community, there are also long-standing tensions between the two groups. The 1982 Citizenship Law stripped Rohingyas of their citizenship and even the right to self-identify. They were effectively barred from voting in the last general elections in November 2015 and are left without political representation. The Rohingya are also subject to many restrictions in day to day life: banned from travelling without authorization and prohibited from working outside their villages, they cannot marry without permission and, due to movement restrictions, they lack sufficient access to livelihood opportunities, medical care and education. Due to restrictions to the number of children per couple, thousands of children are left with no birth registration documents, further restricting their access to basic services and decreasing the chance for a decent life.

In 2012 widespread violence in Rakhine left some 140 000 people, mostly Rohingya, displaced. While the authorities have initiated a limited return process, over 120 000 people remain displaced more than four years after the events, living in squalid camps with fast dilapidating shelter with only limited access to health care, education and livelihood opportunities. As for those who have returned, the movement restriction they are subjected to implies they continue to be aid dependent. Tensions and mistrust between the two communities continue.

Some Rakhine groups erroneously perceive that humanitarian aid, which is allocated strictly according to needs, is distributed unevenly and benefits only the Rohingya. In March 2014 this triggered organized attacks against international community offices, residences and warehouses, resulting in millions of euros of losses. In 2015, the flood and cyclone relief interventions, supporting affected people from both communities, allowed to mitigate this perception to some extent. This perception however remains active, partly due to limited development opportunities in Rakhine State. Access to the IDP camps around Sittwe remains highly regulated preventing timely and adequate assistance delivery.

Due to the deplorable living conditions, tens of thousands of people – including many women and children – have fled on precarious boat journeys to neighbouring countries. Many do not survive these journeys while others fall prey to human trafficking networks.

A deadly assault on three border guard posts in northern Rakhine State on 9 October 2016 triggered a series of violent incidents and military operations resulting in the suspension of humanitarian activities and the flight of over 74,000 Rohingyas into Bangladesh in search of protection. With severely restricted humanitarian access, more than 130 000 people in Rakhine state were deprived of much-needed regular assistance Since January 2017, gradual, though still limited access, has allowed the resumption of some previously suspended activities,

The initial influx of Rohingyas to Bangladesh dates back to 1978, with a large arrival in 1991-1992.
Presently, 33 148 are living in two official camps managed by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR source) in Nayapara and Kutupalong.

While these are recognized by the Government of Bangladesh as refugees, the others are labelled “Undocumented Myanmar nationals” and have no legal status in Bangladesh. The refusal of the authorities to register Rohingya at birth or provide marriage certificates and other civil documentation makes it difficult to assess the scale of the humanitarian needs of these people in Bangladesh, many of whom live in difficult conditions with inadequate food intake and diet diversification, or access to health care. Without legal status they are also unable to pursue education and formal employment opportunities, and remain vulnerable to exploitation and serious protection risks. The sudden influx of Rohingya refugees since October 2016 has created an increasing strain on the existing humanitarian services.

Conditions in the official refugee camps are better than those of the estimated 300 000 to 500 000 Rohingya living in the Kutupalong makeshift camp, Leda site and Shamlapur village and the surrounding areas. In 2014, the Government of Bangladesh recognized the humanitarian needs of people living in these sites by launching a National Strategy for Undocumented Myanmar Nationals - a broad roadmap outlining the authorities’ general approach to the crisis. Sections of this Strategy are being rolled out by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), which has been mandated by the Government to coordinate implementation. With the Strategy, services to undocumented refugees have somewhat improved, but serious concerns over safety and security remain as the process so far has failed to provide the unregistered refugees with any kind of legal status, nor have they been informed about the Strategy, its process and potential implications. Many households are female headed, which increases exposure to exploitation and gender based violence. The situation of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh is defined as a "forgotten crisis” by ECHO.

In the last few years, Thailand became a major transit point for refugees and migrants, many trying to reach Malaysia. Since 2013 Thai authorities have arrested and detained over 2000 Rohingya in Immigration Detention Centres, police stations or social welfare facilities. However, a crackdown on human smugglers and traffickers in 2015 has reduced the flow of refugees transiting through the country. As of November 2016, 316 Rohingyas remained in detention throughout Thailand, according to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).