Rohingya people in Myanmar and Bangladesh say they feel trapped and that their lives are on hold two years on from a campaign of violence that forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Despite global attention and a huge humanitarian effort, more than a million Rohingya are being denied their basic human rights with no resolution is in sight.
Two years ago this Sunday (August 25), the first of more than 700,000 Rohingya people fled to Bangladesh after a military crackdown by the Myanmar army. An estimated 500,000 Rohingya people remain in Myanmar, including almost 130,000 in confined camps that are fenced in and where movement is severely restricted.
Efforts to return up to 3,450 refugees to Myanmar began earlier this week. Oxfam welcomes the commitment by the Government of Bangladesh and UNHCR to ensure returns only happen in conditions that are safe, voluntary and dignified. Refugees long to return to their homes, but many say they fear going back without a guarantee of rights and justice.
Rohingya people living in camps in Myanmar have told Oxfam staff how endless checkpoints and confusing bureaucracy are cutting them off from healthcare, education and work. Many describe waiting days or even weeks for a permit to go to hospital, while some said they knew of people who had died waiting, including mothers in labour. A generation of children are missing out on an education, since not all camps have formal schools, and there is only one secondary school to serve 23 camps. Adults can no longer earn a living through agriculture or fishing, leaving them reliant on meagre food rations.
The Government of Bangladesh has shown great generosity in hosting almost a million Rohingya in what has become the world’s largest refugee camp. Yet Rohingya people cannot leave the camp without permission and only have access to the most basic healthcare and education, and are not allowed to work.
Elizabeth Hallinan, Advocacy Manager for Oxfam’s Rohingya Response, said: “Rohingya people feel as though they are in limbo with no end in sight. They are alive, but merely surviving. Immediate action is needed so they are free to travel and work to provide for their families.”
One Rohingya man in Myanmar told Oxfam: “I want you to imagine what it is like to have no rights, no business, children have no education. It is like a prison … Except this is the next level prison, because we do not know how many years we have to stay here” Another said: “The Rohingya are like a person inside a deep well … The surrounding people give him food and assistance, but no one thinks about the ladder and getting him out of the well.”
Those in Myanmar but outside the camps face similar restrictions: they need permission to travel outside their villages and are often cut off from vital services. The accounts Oxfam has heard echo the findings of other organisations including the UN, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty.
Canada has played a leadership role in providing humanitarian assistance to the Rohingya crisis. Canada should also continue to expand targeted sanctions related to Myanmar, and show willingness to resettle Rohingya refugees with a focus on the most vulnerable – I including women and survivors of sexual violence.
Oxfam is calling on the Government of Myanmar to end restrictions on movement and ensure equal rights for all. The root causes of violence in Rakhine State must be addressed, as outlined in the Rakhine Advisory Commission recommendations.
The Government of Bangladesh should give refugees the chance to lead meaningful lives by allowing them to work and receive training. But it also needs ongoing support from the international community to care for so many refugees; the UN estimates that $950.8 million will be needed to fund the Rohingya response in 2019 but only a third of that figure has been pledged by governments around the world.
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Notes to editors:
- Oxfam has spokespeople available in Bangkok and Cox’s Bazar.
- In the last two years, Oxfam has helped more than 350,000 Rohingya people in Bangladesh and Myanmar. This includes providing clean water, vouchers for food and building infrastructure like roads and solar-powered lights in camps in Bangladesh.
- The most common concerns for Rohingya people, as reported to Oxfam staff, were restrictions on their movement and associated problems around healthcare, education and work; denial of citizenship and equal rights; and the inability to return to their homes in Myanmar.
- Oxfam is calling for the Government of Myanmar to fully implement the recommendations of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State, which include ensuring freedom of movement for all people irrespective of religion, ethnicity, or citizenship status. Despite some efforts to improve infrastructure in the camps and to provide alternative places to live, restrictions on movement have not been lifted.