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Three years on: Rohingyas at a crossroad

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Almost one million Rohingyas live as refugees in make-shift homes in Bangladesh's Cox’s Bazar – a district that has become known for hosting the world’s largest refugee camp. Years after a violent mass displacement of Rohingyas from their villages in Myanmar, the outlook of their return is looking bleak.

As persecution and attacks on the Rohingya minority in Myanmar culminated in a massive exodus in 2017, around 700,000 people fled for their lives in just a few months.

Some left with what they were wearing, others packed a few belongings, but all had to venture out on a dangerous journey before they could cross the border into neighbouring Bangladesh, and into an unknown future. Should they stay for a week? A month? It is now more than three years ago, and while their hopes for a soon return home remains high, the outlook is fading.

No progress on repatriation

The Rohingya have sought refuge in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar-district as well as in neighbouring countries in the wider Asia region.

But they are living under extreme conditions, crammed in tiny houses. They have limited access to clean water and are vulnerable to risks in an environment stressed by natural hazards such as the annual monsoons, crime and more recently also the Covid-19 pandemic.

But it is unsafe to even try to return. The border is closed and the Rohingya are so far faced with a situation where progress on negotiations and agreements that would allow for their return has been problematic and not resulted in any significant openings.

A young girl who was forced flee Myanmar with her mother and two siblings in 2017. Today, she is living in the Cox's Bazar refugee camp in Bangladesh in a shelter provided by DRC.

Conflict and Covid-19 in Myanmar’s Rakhine state

Inside Myanmar are an estimated 600,000 Rohingya currently residing in the northern Rakhine State and trapped in escalating conflict. More than 140,000 are believed to have fled their home to join other Rohingya in safer nearby townships and camps for internally displaced where they can seek aid and protection.

Vulnerable individuals and entire communities in Myanmar are now facing further risk since the emergence of the Covid-19 pandemic. A rapidly evolving outbreak in Rakhine State has led to comprehensive restrictions with lockdowns that are blocking access and delivery of aid.

Though the intention is to protect vulnerable communities from the virus, the implications have significantly reduced humanitarian response capacity and service delivery. Many internally displaced people and vulnerable communities across the Rakhine State are currently blocked from emergency assistance and has no longer access to basic services and protection.

This situation is further complicated by the escalating conflict between Myanmar’s military and the so-called Arakan Army increasingly affecting the civilian population.

Advocating access

Along with other local and international NGO’s, DRC continues to urge the government authorities in Myanmar to help facilitate - not restrict - the efforts of the UN, INGO and NGO humanitarian workers on the ground who are there to deliver the basic services that the affected populations depend on.

DRC is working on both sides of the border, providing humanitarian aid and protection and helping the vulnerable and displaced on location or remotely. With international funding and support, DRC can provide emergency aid and invest in longer-term interventions for the Rohingyas in both Myanmar and Bangladesh through support to recovery efforts that allow them to become more resilient and self-sustainable.

Homebound

On both sides of the border, the highest hopes for the Rohingya is that there will be real and lasting solutions to their displacement through voluntary and dignified return to Myanmar’s Rakhine State from where they were displaced. Despite reports that many of their houses and villages have been attacked, burnt or destroyed, they dream of a future there and wish to return to live and farm on the land that has been their homes and livelihoods for generations.

On 22 October 2020, the Rohingya 2020 Conference to sustain support for the Rohingya refugees is convened by the United States, the United Kingdom, UNHCR, and the European Commission. Find more information and a livestream of the event here. In relation to the conference, DRC has co-signed a joint statement on priority issues regarding the Rohingya situation in Bangladesh and Myanmar