With over 150 diseases in the Rohingya communities in Bangladesh, we see another refugee crises that is slowly turning deadly.
Since the Rohingya influx in Bangladesh, they have been living in overcrowded camps with an average population density of less than 15m2/person, well below the international guideline of 30-45m2/person for refugee camps. This congestion, alongside Bangladesh’s agenda to displace Rohingya camps into one island, has contributed to several underlying problems in the Rohingya community.
Myanmar’s violence against Rohingya can be dated back to the early 1978 government-launched operation Nagamin to separate nationals from non-nationals, which was the first concentrated period of mass violence, rape and torture against the Rohingya refugees. The sudden spike of violence drove the Rohingya populations to flee into Bangladesh to seek refuge. They were denied entry and their food rations were blocked by both countries. 12000 of the two hundred thousand Rohingya people died. This is the first of the many Burmese operations based on engaging in severe violence against the Rohingya people and forcing them to flee out of the country into Bangladesh. After being denied citizenship rights in 1982, the Myanmar government exploited Rohingya populations as a means to arouse nationalist voters during political campaigns and national elections.
By systematically framing Rohingya refugees for minor crimes and replacing mosques for military supervision sites, the Myanmar government was successful in creating a nationalist propoganda that justified the prosecution and alienation of the Rohingya people. Rohingya often reported that their lives were more restricted than those of their non-Rohingya neighbours. Local officials required Rohingya to pay fees to marry or have children and limited family size.
In a series of interviews, many Rohingya peoples complained they were unable to practice their religion, because the military closed religious schools, prohibited mosques from issuing a call to prayer, or, in some cases, burned down the mosques. Restrictions on movement for the Rohingya were particularly severe, with a complex web of regulations making it extremely difficult for Rohingya to move freely. A curfew imposed at night prohibited people from leaving their homes while local law enforcement kept strict watch at street corners, which was presumed to be for the purposes of arbitrary detention of Rohingya residents. According to hamlet leader interviews, Rohingya children feared leaving their house or traveling to school during national elections.
Unfortunately for the Rohingya people, the crimes against humanity had only begun
On August 25, 2017, the insurgent Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) attacked 30 police posts and killed 12 personnel in northern Rakhine state as a major retaliation against the recently imposed limitations on marriage and religious practise. As a rebuttal to this, with support of the public, the Myanmar army launched a coordinated, systematic series of attacks throughout Maungdaw, Buthidaung, and Rathedaung townships, including burning of villages, destruction of property, and violence against civilians.
Hundreds of Rohingya people have recounted experiences of rape and torture by the Myanmar military as thousands more have lost families, homes and businesses. This series of crimes have been the most atrocious and impactful crimes against humanity in the 20th century and has shocked the international community in multiple regards. Some Rohingya refugees have reported that they were forced to remain home while the military burned their neighbouring houses by threatening to shoot on sight if seen outside. For months, the Rohingya women and children were victims of consistent rape-and-kill cycles by soldiers while the men were often executed in groups. "The soldiers abducted women and girls from the village and gang raped them at a nearby military compound. Soldiers piled the bodies in at least five mass graves before burning their faces off with acid,” the global rights watchdog added, citing the UN-backed Fact-Finding Mission's report. Qualitative participants from Buthidaung township witnessed Myanmar security forces blindfolding groups of villagers and leading them away, presumably to be killed. One hamlet leader detailed how the police wrapped clothing around the heads of men, women, and children then forced them at gunpoint to a remote setting outside of the hamlet.
The following day, he returned to the area and saw streaks of blood along a dirt path which eventually led to a pile of bodies at a mass grave. Hamlet leaders also described contexts in which groups of women were taken to a nearby building and sexually assaulted. They often were kept for the entire night and released in the morning. The next day, the perpetrators would come and take another group and return them at daybreak. Girls, some as young as 8 years old, were raped in front of their parents or siblings. Inadequate food supply and lack of shelter became least of Rohingya concerns when they faced the threat of a meticulous death on a daily basis. This lead to over 700,000 Rohingya peoples to flee out of their homes and take refuge in the neighbouring countries of Bangladesh, India and Nepal. Multiple families were forced to separate and escape without the certainty whether the rest of their family was alive.
To this day, over 2500 Rohingya families remain separated due to the pace of Rohingya escape.
After fleeing from the attacks in Myanmar, the 700,000 Rohingya people who took refuge in the Cox Bazaar in Bangladesh continued to face violent prosecution and discrimination from local police and municipal governments. Bangladesh’s relocation goals have violently been implemented with goals to displace over 100,000 Rohingya refugees into islands. Rohingya camps have been rife with gang violence, drugs and human trafficking, while jobs and educational opportunities remain scarce. Despite calls from the UNHCR to halt relocation plans, the Bangladesh government maintains an unwelcome position in alignment with their political interests. In 2022 September, 4 Rohingya leaders were shot and killed.
The violence against the already oppressed Rohingya refugees continues, and the only solution is serious international repercussions.