The Guardian’s view of forgotten Rohingya refugees: Lives without a future | Editorial
Jhe hungry and desperate are now much more so. Last month, rations for Rohingya living in the world’s largest refugee camp – Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh – were cut. Another drastic cut is expected next month. It is, as one UN expert warned, a matter of life and death. The Rohingyas have lived on the knife edge for too long.
Their suffering made global headlines in 2017, when Myanmar’s military, backed by militias, launched a deadly campaign that claimed thousands of lives, forced 700,000 people to flee the state of Rakhine for Bangladesh and was called genocide by a United Nations human rights expert. Over the past two years, what little attention has been paid to Myanmar has focused on the military coup and attempts to crush civil resistance. But the Rohingya’s suffering began decades ago and continues to this day, even outside Rakhine state. Many had fled before, returning (not always by choice) when assured it was safe. It was not. They experienced discrimination and repression, military operations, pogroms and stripping of their citizenship. The approximately 600,000 people who remain in Myanmar are confined to camps, subjected to government violence and deprived of essential services.
“There was no peace… wherever they went,” writes Guardian journalist Kaamil Ahmed in his new book, I Feel No Peace: Rohingya Fleeing Over Seas and Rivers. “The Rohingyas have fled the Burmese troops who kill them to their Bangladeshi counterparts, who have controlled their lives in a different way, threatening them in their exile and then turning the screw when governments decide they must return to Myanmar.”
Conditions in Bangladesh have gotten so bad that the number of attempted dangerous sea crossings to Malaysia or Indonesia has quintupled in the past year, to more than 3,500, at the cost of around a tenth of those lives. Earlier this month, a massive fire tore through one of the camps in Cox’s Bazar, leaving around 12,000 people homeless – the latest in a string of fires endangering lives and destroying the meager possessions the refugees can still gather. It has been blamed on armed gangs who threaten, rob and murder camp residents. Rohingyas complain that Bangladeshi police have failed to stamp out the violence and are harassing and extorting them.
Dhaka wants UN help to move more Rohingya to Bhasan Char, an island highly vulnerable to cyclones. Officials present it as an opportunity for a fresh start; refugees described dangerous and prison-like conditions. The Rohingya have reason to be cynical of the UN, given the refugee agency’s previous treatment of them.
Bangladesh is a poor country in the throes of a major humanitarian crisis, and it needs help to do better. Support offered in 2017 declined rapidly, even before Covid, the war in Ukraine and soaring food prices. The World Food Program says it needs $125m (£103m) just to avert further ration cuts in a community where malnutrition is already rampant. The US has pledged $26m (£21m) but overall the response has been lackluster. The UK’s promise of a £5m package falls far short of the cuts it imposed when it slashed the aid budget in 2021. What the Rohingya ultimately need is c It is citizenship in Myanmar to return safely whenever they wish, but failing that, resettlement would allow them to establish new lives and flourish instead of living in perpetual insecurity. They need not just food now, but a future.