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Perspective

Rohingya Crisis: IRC on what is needed one year in

Today marks the one-year anniversary of a brutal scorched-earth campaign against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar. The violence triggered the fastest and largest refugee flow since Rwanda - in just the first month half a million Rohingya men, women, and children fled to Bangladesh in search of safety. Now, eleven months later, Bangladesh is home to the world’s largest refugee camp.

The past year has been long and hard – both for the Rohingya refugees and their Bangladeshi hosts. Rohingya refugees have already faced two monsoon seasons, disease outbreaks, and ongoing uncertainty. And, given refugees generally remain displaced for a decade on average, we must acknowledge that some of our biggest humanitarian challenges remain ahead.

Manish Agrawal, Country Director of the International Rescue Committee in Bangladesh said: “A year on from the start of the violence that forced almost one million Rohingya to flee their homes in Myanmar, conditions for this population remain dire. Despite Bangladesh opening its doors to the Rohingya, providing them sanctuary when they needed it most, camps are dangerously congested and shelters are shoddily constructed of flimsy bamboo and tarpaulin.

“Understandably, the rapid arrival of refugees demanded a fast-paced response. But, in many cases, speed has been the enemy of quality and unmet needs continue to have emotional as well as physical consequences for Rohingya families. The trauma amongst the refugee population – especially for women and girls who account for 80% – is among the worst the International Rescue Committee has ever seen.

“In Bangladesh, the UK, US, EU, Canada and other international donors have shown generosity in supporting the humanitarian response. These actors and regional partners must now translate their support into long-term, multi-year financing that builds on Bangladesh’s development achievements, while fueling better quality services and economic opportunities for refugees and host communities alike. Such interventions are essential to mitigate the impact of the crisis on the people of Cox’s Bazar, end refugees’ reliance on humanitarian assistance, and set them on the path to self reliance. This investment should be matched with reforms to refugee policy in Bangladesh that promote and protect Rohingya rights, including the right to work and freedom of movement, to support their ability to meet their own needs and better prepare them for voluntary, sustainable return if and when the time comes.”

Sanna Johnson, IRC Regional Vice President Asia added: “In Myanmar, lack of meaningful progress to address violations of basic rights continues to force Rohingya to seek safety in Bangladesh - over 12,000 Rohingya have crossed the border since the beginning of the year.

“The reforms needed in Myanmar are significant but achievable. The Government should now fulfill its commitments made following the Rakhine Advisory Commission (RAC) report to improve conditions for the Rohingya, including showing tangible progress on protecting freedom of movement (including for the over 120,000 Rohingya who remain confined in camps in central Rakhine State) and access to basic services like health and education. As outlined in the RAC report, these improvements must be underpinned by steps to address the issue of citizenship for the Rohingya, in line with international standards and principles of non-discrimination. Equally important, to help restore the trust of Rohingya, the government should support a full, independent investigation of abuses by all actors last August.

“Until refugees see progress on these concerns, and meaningful changes for Rohingya still in Myanmar, conditions will not be right for the safe, voluntary and dignified return of refugees. The international community and government of Myanmar must therefore step up efforts to ensure Rohingya receive international protection in Bangladesh, while prioritizing protection of human rights of Rohingya remaining in Myanmar.”

Displacement from Myanmar is a regional concern. The IRC has been working in Thailand for over 30 years with Karen refugees providing lessons for what can be achieved with schools, health services and legal assistance available to the displaced. However, with cases of domestic violence, suicide, and teenage pregnancy all high amongst the refugee population, Thailand also illustrates the impact of long-term displacement on communities if people don’t have opportunities and hope for the future.

“The international community must learn from these experiences and not let history be repeated. We cannot let another year of suffering go by for the Rohingya people - now is the time to double down on our efforts,” said Manish Agrawal.

About the IRC

The International Rescue Committee responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises, helping to restore health, safety, education, economic wellbeing, and power to people devastated by conflict and disaster. Founded in 1933 at the call of Albert Einstein, the IRC is at work in over 40 countries and 28 offices across the U.S. helping people to survive, reclaim control of their future, and strengthen their communities. Learn more at www.rescue.org and follow the IRC on Twitter & Facebook.