What is becoming the biggest refugee crisis in the world has been growing at an exceptional rate. Over 600,000 Rohingya refugees have been fleeing hostilities at the hands of the Myanmar government, and neighboring countries are at a loss as to how to handle the growing number of displaced people.
The Rohingya people are a stateless Indo-Aryan people from Rakhine State, Myanmar. Before the current regional breakdown in Myanmar that gave them their contemporary name, they were known as Arakanese Indians.
The Rohingya have suffered several bouts of persecution at the hands of the Burmese, with a total of five targeted government efforts to get rid of the indigenous people since 1978. There were an estimated 1 million Rohingya living in Myanmar before the current crisis began, now more than half of those people have fled, the overwhelming majority having reached Bangladesh since the exodus began in late August.
There are a few pressing issues now on the international community’s plate in regards to the Rohingya crisis.
First off, the presence of vast amounts of refugees has created immense logistical challenges. Exhausted and sickly Rohingya, having traveled miles on foot through swamps and muddy rice fields, often carrying their children and elderly along the way, need to be tended to. International organizations such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the UN’s International Children’s Fund (UNICEF) have been rushing to vaccinate tens of thousands of patients to prevent breakouts of disease in the crowded camps that house these refugees.
Supplying these makeshift camps has also become a major effort. As of mid-October, the UN’s refugee wing, UNHCR had airlifted to Bangladesh some 700 metric tonnes of life-saving aid, including tents, plastic sheets, blankets, mosquito nets, kitchen sets and jerry cans, with additional deliveries already planned.
UN groups on the ground have issued a request for $78 million to fund the effort over the next six months. While only a fraction of this has been funneled into the field as of now, the money will most likely come.
Unfortunately, aid is only part of the problem.
The second, larger point that needs to be discussed is how to address the Burmese government’s role in all of this. Burma is not exactly known for their exemplary track record on human rights. While the Burmese have been targeting the Rohingya for almost 40 years, in what international organizations have termed ethnic cleansing efforts, this time around seems to be on a different scale. In addition to the huge volume of people displaced, the reported brutality of government forces is almost unfathomable. Stories from refugees about, gang rapings, burnings, and wholesale indiscriminate slaughter, in some cases hundreds at a time, have been reported by international media.
Burma has also not allowed humanitarian workers access to affected areas within their country.
UN agencies are still demanding access to northern Rakhine, where an unknown number of Rohingya remain stranded after a string of villages were reportedly destroyed.
UNICEF official Simon Ingram told media sources recently of the need for the UN to step in and actively protect Rohingya within Burma: “This is an absolutely fundamental requirement. The atrocities against children and civilians must end. We just must keep putting it on the record, we cannot keep silent.”