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The Rohingya crisis – HPG Policy Brief 71
By Caitlin Wake and Brenda Yu – Caitlin Wake is a Senior Research Officer at the Humanitarian Policy Group (HPG). Brenda Yu is a Senior Communications Officer at HPG, London, U.K.
Key messages – March 2018
- Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees have fled to Bangladesh to escape violence and persecution in Myanmar. Housed in overcrowded camps, they lack adequate assistance and protection; the Bangladesh government does not recognise their status as refugees, and they enjoy few rights or freedoms.
- Although Bangladesh and Myanmar have agreed a repatriation deal, any discussion of return is premature given ongoing violence in Myanmar and the widespread reluctance among refugees to go home.
- Political and diplomatic progress to address the crisis in Myanmar has been minimal. China and Russia have blocked action at the UN, and the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) has been unable to develop a coherent position.
- The constrained policy environment in Bangladesh, the absence of any realistic prospect of safe and voluntary return and the lack of political progress to resolve the crisis in Myanmar all suggest that displacement will be protracted. Past experience shows that, once a refugee is displaced for over six months, they are highly likely to be in exile for years. There is no reason to believe that this refugee crisis will be any different.
- Now is the time for operational organisations, donors and the government of Bangladesh to start preparing for the impact of long-term displacement. A three-pronged approach is needed, involving continued response to urgent humanitarian needs, the mobilisation of resources to support a longer-term developmental response and a significant shift in policy to enhance refugees’ rights and freedoms.
Since August 2017, more than 650,000 Rohingya people have fled violence and persecution in Rakhine State in Myanmar, bringing the total number of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh to more than 900,000. Operational organisations in Cox’s Bazar are overwhelmed, hampered by funding shortfalls, poor coordination and planning and a challenging operating environment. In Myanmar, the government has blocked the humanitarian response and placed restrictions on journalists, human rights observers, local and international NGOs and the UN. Political and diplomatic progress to address the root causes of the crisis has been minimal. China and Russia oppose UN resolutions intended to end the campaign against the Rohingya, and the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) is divided on how to respond. Six months since the latest exodus began, there is little hope the conflict will be resolved in the near future. c
The Rohingya refugee crisis can no longer be thought of or responded to as a short-term humanitarian emergency. While short-term life-saving assistance for refugees is crucial, now is the time to plan for longer-term displacement, and find ways to support both the Rohingya in Bangladesh and affected host communities in the months and years to come.