In this special series of reports, IPS journalists travel to the border region between Bangladesh and Myanmar to speak with Rohingya refugees, humanitarian workers and officials about the still-unfolding human rights and health crises facing this long-marginalized and persecuted community.
COX’S BAZAR, Bangladesh, Nov 29 2017 (IPS) – Parul Akhtar,* a Rohingya woman in her mid-twenties, may never wish to remember the homeland she and her children left about three weeks ago.
Too scared to speak out, Parul, the mother of two young children, rests inside the makeshift tent she now calls her home in Kutupalong in southeastern Bangladesh, which is hosting thousands of Rohingya refugees fleeing persecution in neighbouring Myanmar.
But it is still fresh in her mind as she recalls the violence she and her family endured day after day when truckloads of army soldiers, along with local Buddhist men, came to violate women, loot valuables and burn homes while picking up young men in her village in Rajarbil in Maungdaw district in Myanmar.
“My body shivers when I recall those days,” says Parul, visibly upset by the horrifying memories.
Standing in front of her tent in Modhuchhara camp in the vast and so far the biggest Rohingya refugee camp in Kutupalong, about 35 kilometers from the nearest city of Cox’s Bazar, Parul, narrates the ordeal of escaping the atrocities.
“It was a nightmare trying to escape and dodge the embedded informers, army and of course, police,” Parul says.
“When I came back to consciousness, I found my brothers and husband missing. My children were also not spared.” –Nasima Aktar
Bangladesh and Myanmar have signed a deal for the return of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees, who have taken shelter in the border town of Cox’s Bazar after a brutal crackdown by the military.
Myanmar’s foreign ministry confirmed the signing of the agreement on Thursday, without releasing further details.
“I didn’t find any clear statement how these refugees will be repatriated. I’m not sure whether they will be allowed to return to their original village,” Rohingya activist Nay San Lwin told Al Jazeera.
“It looks like they will be placed in the temporary camps, and later the refugees will be locked up in the camps for a long time like the Rohingya in Sittwe for more than five years now.
“Myanmar minister for resettlement and welfare said they will repatriate maximum 300 refugees a day. So it can take up to two decades to repatriate all those refugees.”
Al Jazeera’s Scott Heidler, reporting from Yangon, said the deal was the result of international pressure which has been mounting steadily on Myanmar.
“For Myanmar, it’s very important because it is showing some progress on this Rohingya crisis,” Heidler said.
San Lwin said refugees should not return if their citizenship and basic rights are not guaranteed.yanmar minister for resettlement and welfare said they will repatriate maximum 300 refugees a day. So it can take up to two decades to repatriate all those refugees. — Rohingya activist Nay San Lwin
“Bangladesh should not send back any Rohingya refugee to Myanmar unless citizenship and basic rights are guaranteed. The people who fled to Bangladesh lived in the open air prison for almost three decades, now it looks like they will be sent back to concentration camps.”
The agreement comes after Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi met Bangladesh’s foreign minister to resolve one of the biggest refugee crisis of modern times.
More than 620,000 people have poured into Bangladesh since August, running from a Myanmar military crackdown that the US said this week clearly constitutes “ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya”.
The talks between Aung San Suu Kyi and her Bangladeshi counterpart come in advance of a highly anticipated visit to both nations by Pope Francis, who has been outspoken about his sympathy for the plight of the Rohingya.
Buddhist-majority Myanmar, which denies committing atrocities against the Muslim minority, has agreed to work with Bangladesh to repatriate some of the Rohingya piling into desperately overstretched refugee camps.
But the neighbours have struggled to settle on the details, including how many Rohingya will be allowed back in violence-scorched Rakhine, where hundreds of villages have been burned.
Last week Myanmar’s military chief Min Aung Hlaing said it was “impossible to accept the number of persons proposed by Bangladesh”.
Rendered stateless, Rohingya have been the target of communal violence and vicious anti-Muslim sentiment for years.
They have also been systematically oppressed by the government, which stripped the minority of citizenship and severely restricts their movement, as well as their access to basic services.
The latest crisis erupted after Rohingya rebels attacked police posts on August 25.
The army backlash rained violence across northern Rakhine, with refugees recounting nightmarish scenes of soldiers and Buddhist mobs slaughtering villagers and burning down entire communities.
The military denies all allegations but has restricted access to the conflict zone.
Aung San Suu Kyi’s government has also vowed to deny visas to a UN-fact finding mission tasked with probing accusations of military abuse.
COX’S BAZAR, Bangladesh, Sep 18 2017 (IPS) – Forsaken and driven out by their home country Myanmar, tens of thousands of Rohingyas are struggling to survive in Bangladesh’s border districts amid scarcities of food, clean water and medical care, mostly for children and elderly people.
In a desperate flight to escape brutal military persecution, men, women and children in the thousands have walked for miles, travelled on rickety fishing boats or waded through the Naf — the river that divides Bangladesh and Myanmar.
“I saw my houses being burned down and left behind all our belongings… my father was killed in front of us,” 12-year-old Nurul Islam told IPS as he reached Teknaf border in Bangladesh on Sep. 13. “In a bid to escape along with my mother and a younger brother, we walked almost a week to reach Bangladesh following a trail of people streaming out of Rakhine villages for cover.”
Islam is one of over 400,000 Rohingyas who have made the defiant and arduous journey to neighbouring Bangladesh in the past three weeks. Many of them were shot dead, drowned in the river or blown up in landmines placed in their path of escape.
Yet every hour, the number of new arrivals is rising. There seems no end to the steady flow of Rohingyas carrying sacks of belongings – whatever they could save from burning – or children on their shoulders or laps, or carrying weaker elderly people on their back or bamboo yokes. As they arrived, they were devastated, but happy to find themselves still alive – at least for the time being.
“It was a nightmare…the crackle of bullets and burning flames still haunt me.” — Rebeka Begum
But aid groups, both local and international, warn that this already overpopulated, impoverished South Asian nation is now overwhelmed by the sudden influx of refugees.
They said lack of food and medical aid are leading to a humanitarian catastrophe as starving or half-fed people arrive already suffering from malnutrition, and an inadequate safe water supply and poor sanitation facilities could cause breakouts of waterborne diseases.
“We’ve already detected many cases of skin or diarrhoeal diseases,” Ibrahim Molla, a physician from Dhaka Community Hospital now aiding refugees in Cox’s Bazar, told IPS
The UN refugee agency UNHCR and International Organization for Migration (IOM) held a joint press conference in Dhaka on Thursday where officials estimated the number of fleeing Rohingyas might reach one million as their influx continued.
The latest round of Rohingya crisis unfolded as Myanmar’s army conducted a brutal crackdown on “Rohingya militants” who attacked a security outpost killing solders in the last week of August. Though not independently verified, according to eyewitness accounts of fleeing Rohingyas, the Myanmar army torched village after village, the homes of ethnic Rohingya Muslims, in reprisal, killing hundreds.
Myanmar authorities denied the allegations, but satellite images released by a number of international rights groups corroborated the claim made by the Rohingya refugees.
In addition to arson, the Myanmar soldiers were also accused of raping Rohingya women.
Local people in Teknaf also said they saw huge fires and black smoke billowing across the Naf River from the Myanmar side several times.
The UN refugee chief called the situation a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing” in Rakhine state in Myanmar.
It was not the first time the Rohingyas, mostly Muslims, have been targeted and faced discrimination in their hometowns of Buddhist-majority Myanmar, where they lived for centuries. In the past few decades, they have been stripped of citizenship, denied basic rights and made stateless, leading the UN to describe them as “the most persecuted people on earth.”
As the Rohingyas crossed finally the border after their death-defying trudge to Bangladesh’s southeast districts of Cox’s Bazar and Bandarban, many had no safe shelter, food or drinking water in a country of 160 million people, though Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina promised to accommodate all on humanitarian grounds.
Though many countries started sending aid and others made promises, many Rohingya refugees were still starving or passing days half-fed. Those who were strong enough to jostle fared the best as local volunteers distributed limited amounts of food and water.
In many places when trucks carrying aid were spotted, starving people blocked them and desperately tried to grab food. The distribution process turned risky as the inexperienced volunteers threw food to the crowd of refugees from the trucks.
As they scuffled for food and water, many people were injured in stampedes or caned by the people given responsibility to discipline the refugees crowding for aid.
June 20, 2017 www.afjn.org By Kpakpo Serge Adotevi (AFJN Intern), Edited by Yashi Gunawardena (AFJN Intern)
In Africa, more than 13 million people are currently on the run in their own countries. We at Africa Faith and Justice Network (AFJN) refuse to stand by and let this crisis remain silent much longer. Despite the obvious link between internal displacement and refugee flows, policymakers tend to focus mainly on refugees while internally displaced people (IDPs) remain largely neglected.
According to the International Displacement Monitoring Center (IMDC), there were 3.5 million new displacements linked to conflict, violence and disasters in 47 African countries in 2015. That is an average of over 9,500 people per day losing their livelihoods and being uprooted from their homes and communities. Africa currently has many more internally displaced persons (IDPs) than refugees. In fact, there are nearly five times as many IDPs as refugees in Africa and they are found all over the continent. The countries with the most internally displaced persons are:
Democratic Republic of Congo: 2,350,000
South Sudan: 2,100,00
Central African Republic: 415,000
Internal displacement has reached daunting proportions in Africa as a result of protracted conflicts, massive human rights violations, natural disasters (flooding, famines and drought), urban renewal projects and large-scale development projects. Meanwhile, conflicts remain the number cause of displacement in Africa. To better understand the causes of conflict in Africa, please read the article “Triggers of Conflict in Africa” by AFJN Policy Analyst Jacques Bahati.
An emerging driver of displacement in Africa is land grabbing. At AFJN, we have witnessed first-hand how land grabbing causes people to be displaced, relocate, and have trouble adjusting to their new environments. Land grabbing creates unintended tensions and conflicts in communities that were once peaceful and sustainable. This issue is one of our focus campaigns. Click here to learn more about land grabbing. We also invite you to join us in this cause by donating on our site. We thank you for your contribution.
UNITED NATIONS, May 26 2017 (IPS) – World leaders must step up and take action in fighting famine to prevent further catastrophic levels of hunger and deaths, said Oxfam.
Ahead of the 43rd G7 summit, Oxfam urged world leaders to urgently address the issue of famine, currently affecting four countries at unprecedented levels.
“Political failure has led to these crises – political leadership is needed to resolve them…the world’s most powerful leaders must now act to prevent a catastrophe happening on their watch,” said Oxfam’s Executive Director Winnie Byanyima.
“If G7 leaders were to travel to any of these four countries, they would see for themselves how life is becoming impossible for so many people: many are already dying in pain, from disease and extreme hunger,” she continued.
In northeast Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, and Yemen, approximately 30 million people are severely food insecure. Of this figure, 10 million face emergency and famine conditions, more than the population of G7 member United Kingdom’s capital of London.
After descending into conflict over three years ago, famine has now been declared in two South Sudan counties and a third county is at risk if food aid is not provided.
In Somalia, conflict alongside prolonged drought – most likely exacerbated by climate change – has left almost 7 million in need of humanitarian assistance. Drought has also contributed to cholera outbreaks and displacement.
Byanyima pointed to the hypocrisy in a “world of plenty” experiencing four famines.
These widespread crises are not confined to the four countries’ borders.
According to the UN Refugee Agency, almost 2 million South Sudanese have fled to neighboring countries, including Uganda, Ethiopia, and Kenya, making it the world’s fastest growing refugee crisis. Due to the influx of South Sudanese refugees, the Bidi Bidi refugee camp in Uganda is now the largest in the world, placing a strain on local services.
Escaping hunger and conflict, Nigerians have sought refuge in the Lake Chad region which shares its borders with Cameroon, Chad, and Niger only to once again face high levels of food insecurity and disease outbreaks.
Among the guest invitees to the G7 meeting are the affected nations, including the governments of Ethiopia, Kenya, and Nigeria.
Oxfam called on the G7 countries to provide its fair share of funding. So far, they have provided 1.7 billion dollars, just under 60 percent of their fair share. Meanwhile, only 30 percent of a 6.3-billion-dollar UN appeal for all four countries has been funded. If each G7 country contributed its fair share, almost half of the appeal would be funded, Oxfam estimates.
In 2015, the G7 committed to lift 500 million people out of hunger and malnutrition. Oxfam noted that they should thus uphold their commitments and focus on crisis prevention.
However, some of the G77 nations’ actions do not bode well for accelerated action on famine.
For instance, the U.S. government has proposed significant cuts to foreign assistance, including a 30 percent decrease in funding for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). The proposal also includes the elimination of Title II For Peace, a major USAID food aid program, which would mean the loss of over 1.7 billion dollars of food assistance.
Former US Foreign Disaster Assistance chief Jeremy Konyndyk noted that the cuts are “catastrophic.” “So bad I fear I’m misreading it,” he added.
International Rescue Committee’s (IRC) President David Miliband highlighted the importance of continuing U.S. foreign assistance in order to alleviate humanitarian suffering abroad and protect the interests and security of the U.S. and its allies.
“Global threats like Ebola and ISIS grow out of poverty, instability, and bad governance. Working to counteract these with a forward-leaning foreign aid policy doesn’t just mean saving lives today, but sparing the US and its allies around the world the much more difficult, expensive work of combating them tomorrow,” he stated.
President Trump also called for the elimination of the U.S. African Development Foundation which provides grants to underserved communities in Sub-Saharan Africa, and has suggested cutting funds to climate change programs such as the UN’s Green Climate Fund which aims to help vulnerable developing nations combat climate change.
Meanwhile, UK’s Prime Minister Theresa May has already abolished its climate change department.
In addition to scaling up humanitarian funding, G7 nations must commit to fund longer-term solutions that build resilience and improve food security to avoid large-scale disasters, Oxfam stated. This includes action on climate change, “no excuses,” said Oxfam.
President Trump is expected to announce whether the U.S. will remain in the Paris climate agreement after the G7 summit.
“History shows that when donors fail to act on early warnings of potential famine, the consequence can be a large-scale, devastating loss of life….now clear warnings have again been issued,” Oxfam stated.
“The international community have the power to end such failures—if they choose to—by marshaling international logistics and a humanitarian response network to work sustainably with existing local systems to prevent famine and address conflict, governance, and climate change drivers,” Oxfam concluded.
The G7 summit is hosted by Sicily, Italy and will be held from 26-27 May.
Somalia’s Minister of Health, Mohammed Abdullahi, recognizes Ethiopia’s admirable position of accepting refugees and offering support while other countries are closing their doors to refugees. There are currently over 800,000 refugees in Ethiopia, making it the largest refugee-hosting country in Africa. As of February 28th of this year, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that 246,859 refugees are Somalian and 342,573 are South Sudanese. The primary cause of displacement from Somalia is due to conflict and drought. However, Ethiopia has offered an extended hand to Somalia and is recognized as an instrumental provider in the region as people are treated with dignity and “respect basic human rights.” Uganda has also welcomed 520,000 refugees since July 2016 but has faced great difficult as roughly 3,000 South Sudanese refugees pour into the country each day.
Africa works diligently to welcome their neighbors in needs of crisis.
Health officials of Somalia, Sudan and South Sudan have praised Ethiopia’s role in hosting and supporting refugees.
Plan, Policy and Cooperation Affairs Head with Somalia’s Minister of Health, Mohammed Abdullahi, stated that Ethiopia made an exemplary deed to shelter a large number of Somali refugees who have been displaced due to conflicts and drought.
Abdullahi said: “Somali refugees here are receiving treatment, almost similar to Ethiopians, while other countries are forcing them to leave.”
The head noted that currently the Somali government is repatriating its citizens taking into account the relative peace and stability in the country.
For his part, Plan and Policy Director with Sudan’s Minister of Health, Seid Mohammed, said Sudanese refugees taking shelter in Ethiopia have been receiving the necessary supports. “Ethiopia respects the basic human rights of Sudanese refugees.”
Ethiopia’s refugees treatment deserves recognition, according to the director.
International Health Affairs Director-General with South Sudan’s Minister of Health, Dr. Kediende Chong said South Sudanese refugees consider Ethiopia a second home.
Currently, there are over 800,000 refugees in Ethiopia.
ZARQa, Jordan, Jan 11 2016 (IPS) – Emelline Mahmoud Ilyas is an outgoing 35-year-old mother of three from Syria. Sitting in a community center in Zarqa, Jordan, where she just held a meeting with Jordanian and Syrian parents on the subject of childcare, she remembers the ‘journey of death’ that led her family to the Hashemite Kingdom.
Huddled in a ditch by the border next to her husband and her three children, while explosions went off all around them, she was certain that even if her body survived, her mind would forever remain trapped in that ditch. Little did she know that in the space of two years she would be helping other struggling Syrian refugees and destitute Jordanians to turn their lives around in her adoptive city of Zarqa. Continue reading Loneliness and Memories, Syrian Refugees Struggle in Safe Spaces→