The Rohingya refugee crisis: a sombre state of affairs

Stephanie Heng

As recently as May 2018 there were more than 915,000 displaced Rohingya refugees recorded to be living in the densely populated Cox’s Bazar refugee camp in Bangladesh. The refugees had fled from unspeakable acts of abuse in hope of a better future, which now seems increasingly unlikely to materialise. The Rohingya refugee crisis is widely known to be the worst in decades, with refugees fleeing persecution by military troops who had subjected them to ethnic cleansing and even genocide.

The crisis began with the Citizenship Law of Burma (1982) refusing to recognise the Rohingya people as citizens under the rule of the then military government of Myanmar. Coupled with ethnic differences this has made the Rohingyas outcasts, despite them having lived in the country for an immeasurably long period of time. The situation escalated in August 2017 when a strong military crackdown against the Rohingya in the Rakhine state saw the brutal destruction of Rohingya villages. Girls were raped and subjected to atrocious acts of physical and mental abuse. Children were butchered before helpless parents. Families have been torn apart and are now struggling to withstand their losses. The only viable option for survival is to leave and seek refuge in Bangladesh.

The Rohingya refugee crisis is widely known to be the worst in decades

However, even this supposedly ‘better’ life has been exposed as harsh and unforgiving. As a result of the monsoon rains, nearly 28,415 of the refugees who have fled are now at risk from landslides, flooding, and waterborne diseases such as cholera and diarrhoea.  The harsh weather conditions have led to a total of 2,785 individuals being once again displaced, 32 people injured, and one person reported dead in the camps. Around 3,303 shelters have also been damaged, as well as a series of unexplained killings in the crowded camps, sparking widespread fear and distress. Bangladesh has since deployed a special force of roughly 2,400 men to guard and police the refugees. There is expected to be no respite for recovery or change in fortune over the next few months as once the monsoon season subsides in August, the cyclone season begins straightaway.

lastextremeanonymous, flickr creative commons

In an unprecedented move, Myanmar military announced the dismissal of general Maung Maung Soe, who had steered the campaign of violence against the Rohingya people. This comes after the EU and Canada announced sanctions against the General and seven other military leaders for their role in the persecution of Rohingyas, prompting some to suggest that the military may be accepting some measure of accountability for the crisis.

The lack of acknowledgement and implementation of Human Rights in Myanmar is, needless to say, atrocious.

Nonetheless, there has been no outright acknowledgement of the General’s role in the crisis by the Myanmar military. The General, it said, displayed “weakness” in the face of militant attacks on police outposts in the country’s western Rakhine state in 2016 and 2017, according to a statement from the office of the commander in Chief of Defense Services, Min Aung Hlaing.

Tensions are also rising between Aung San Suu Kyi and the country’s military. It was previously agreed that an independent commission will be created to investigate the violation of human rights and related issues in Rakhine State. The three-person commission was to also include a foreign national. Clearly, the Myanmar military opposes this arrangement, citing that it ignores the sovereignty of the state. The lack of acknowledgement and implementation of Human Rights in Myanmar is, needless to say, atrocious. On 10th July 2018, it was announced that Myanmar was to try Reuters journalists who reported on the massacre and now find themselves facing up to 14 years in prison. Aung San Suu Kyi, once hailed the champion of Western liberal democracy, has failed global expectations through her ambivalent response towards the crisis.

The UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres and many others have repeatedly called for the Rohingyas return to Myanmar, advocating that an over-populated refugee camp is hardly a long-term option. However, what needs to be considered is this: what would the reality of the Rohingya people’s situation be upon their return?  

There needs to be a fundamental shift in societal mindset in Myanmar to be able to ensure a safe and peaceful return of the Rohingyas to their original country. Ethnic and religious diversity must be at the least tolerated, if not actively embraced. Infrastructural support, such as improving access to education and livelihoods is the baseline that policymakers should put in place. Only then can a long-lasting solution be achieved.

There needs to be a fundamental shift in societal mindset in Myanmar to be able to ensure a safe and peaceful return of the Rohingyas to their original country

Perhaps it is more realistic to propose small steps towards achieving this ideal. The international community can begin to put pressure on Myanmar to not just accept the Rohingyas’ return, but to also be legally bound to put in place adequate infrastructural support in preparation for it.

Nonetheless, with the current impasse, even this seems overly-idealistic and unattainable. The way forward for the Rohingya refugees is uncertain, and as individuals of the international community far removed from the world of policymakers, we are limited as to how we can help. For now, we can try to support the Rohingya refugees living in the camps through donations, providing necessities to the refugees, or through continuing to pressure policymakers towards meaningful action. We can only hope that in this ‘tragic’ story, as UN Secretary Guterres deems it, we are progressing and ‘pushing in the right direction’.

Photography: lastextremeanonymous via Flickr 

4 Responses

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  1. Chris Hughes
    Aug 05, 2018 - 09:47 AM

    Good article. Unfortunately, the Myanmar junta seems immune to pressure from the international community. The only source of pressure that would be effective is China, which lines the generals pockets with kickbacks. They could persuade Myanmar to implement a semi-autonomous federated region to be protected by UN peacemakers, where the Rohingya could rebuild their homes and lives. But the unnaccountable Chinese leadership does nothing – nothing effective, anyway.

    • Chris Hughes
      Aug 11, 2018 - 06:39 PM

      See my rolling blogpost, ‘Halo goodbye, Suu – the Rohingya crisis’ (

    • Chris Hughes
      Aug 13, 2018 - 11:13 AM

      Mind you, China has now offerred to help with building houses and improving employment prospects for Rohingya returning to Myanmar. See my rolling blogpost, Halo goodbye, Suu – the Rohingya crisis’. Search for ‘Soothfairy suu’.

    • Chris Hughes
      Aug 13, 2018 - 05:41 PM

      See my rolling blogpost, ‘Halo goodbye, Suu – the Rohingya crisis’.


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