Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh

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Kutupalong Refugee Camp in Bangladesh. (Photo taken by John Owens/VOA)

Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh refer to the Rohingya refugees from Myanmar living in Bangladesh.[1][2] As of December 2017, an estimated 655,000 to 700,000 Rohingya people have fled to Bangladesh since 25 August 2017, to avoid ethnic and religious persecution by Myanmar's security forces.[3][4][5] There are more 300,000 Rohingyas living in Bangladesh who fled in earlier waves violence from the Burmese government over the last three decades.[6] As of June 2018, World Bank announced nearly half a billion dollars in grant-based support to help Bangladesh address the needs of Rohingya refugees in areas including health, education, water and sanitation, disaster risk management, and social protection.[7]


Rohingyas are a Muslim minority in Myanmar regarded by many Myanmar Buddhists as illegal migrants from Bangladesh.[8] The Rohingyas have lived in Myanmar for generations and the Bangladesh government has called for Myanmar to take back the refugees.[9] They are denied citizenship in Myanmar and have been described as the world’s most persecuted minority.[10][11] Rohingyas are persecuted in Myanmar by security forces and Buddhist extremists.[12] Myanmar has denied persecuting the Rohingyas.[13]

Since the 1970s Rohingya refugees have been coming to Bangladesh from Myanmar. In the 1990s, more than 250,000 resided in refugees camps in Bangladesh. In the early 2000s, all but 20,000 of them were repatriated to Myanmar, some against their will.[14] This respite ended in 2015 and by 2017, an estimated 300,000 to 500,000 Rohinya refugees were in Bangladesh.[15] Most of the refugees are located along the Teknaf-Cox's Bazar highway that is parallel to the Naf River, which is the border between Bangladesh and Myanmar.[16] Most of the refugees are located in or near Cox's Bazar, a coastal area dependent upon tourism.[17]

Bangladesh blamed the refugees for crime and 2012 Ramu violence in Cox's Bazar.[18] Bangladesh also follows a policy of making the country unwelcome for Rohingya refugees.[19] The majority of the refugees are unregistered, with only 32 thousand refugees registering themselves with UNHCR and the Bangladeshi government. An estimated 200,000+ refugees are living unregistered in Bangladesh.[20] Amnesty International reports have stated that the Myanmar security forces are committing rape, extrajudicial killing, and burning homes belonging to the Rohingya in a December 2016 report.[21] Refugees have been displacing the indigenous people of the Chittagong Hill Tracts.[22] They have also been blamed for importing the drug Ya Ba.[23][24][25]


In 2015 the government of Bangladesh proposed a relocation plan for the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh to the remote island of Thengar Char in the Bay of Bengal. The plan was pushed back following criticism by human rights activists and the UNHCR.

Between October and November 2016, about 65,000 Rohingya refugees arrived from Myanmar. The government of Bangladesh decided to revive the relocation plan.[26] Thengar Char submerges during high tide and was formed in the 2000s by sediments from the Meghna River. It is not included on most maps,[2] and is located 30 kilometers away from Hatiya Island, the nearest inhabited area.[27] The Bangladesh Army has been tasked with making the island habitable for the refugees.[28]


Rohingya refugees in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, protesting against what they view as a dangerous repatriation to Myanmar. (Photo taken by Jafor Islam/VOA)

After the ARSA attacks on 25 August 2017 and subsequent humanitarian crisis, Bangladeshi Foreign Minister Abul Hassan Mahmud Ali met with Myanmar officials on 2 October 2017, later stating after their meeting that both countries had agreed on a "joint working group" for the repatriation of Rohingya refugees who had fled to Bangladesh.[29]

The governments of Myanmar and Bangladesh signed a memorandum of understanding on 23 November 2017 regarding the repatriation of Rohingya refugees to Rakhine State.[30] Bangladesh's Foreign Minister stated that a joint working group composed of UNHCR and members of both nations was to be established within three weeks to fix the final terms for the beginning of the process. He also stated that those returning would be kept in temporary camps near their abandoned homes. Under the deal, Myanmar would ensure that they are not kept in the camps for long and are issued identity cards.[31] The foreign secretaries of both nations met on 19 December to finalise the agreement. Bangladesh's foreign ministry issued a statement saying that the group would "ensure commencement of repatriation within two months" by developing a timetable for verification of identities and logistics.[32]

Bangladesh's foreign ministry announced on 15 January 2018 that their government and Myanmar's had bilaterally agreed on a repatriation deal for Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, which would aim to complete the process of repatriation within two years.[33][34] Win Myat Aye, Myanmar's Minister for Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement, also announced that his country would begin repatriating Rohingya refugees beginning on 23 January 2018.[35][36] Originally, the government of Myanmar agreed to repatriate only 374 Rohingya refugees out of a list of over 8,000 submitted by their Bangladeshi counterparts on 14 March 2018, citing incomplete paperwork as the reason for the slow process,[37][38] but on 18 May 2018, they announced they would repatriate a total of 1,100 "verified" Rohingyas from the list.[39]

On 6 June 2018, the United Nations and the government of Myanmar signed a memorandum of understanding regarding the repatriation of Rohingya refugees,[40] the details of which were kept secret until they were leaked online on 29 June 2018.[41] The agreement was immediately criticised and rejected by Rohingya leaders, who say it does not address the concerns of their community.[42][43]

Health issues[edit]

Due to a large population of Rohingyas inhabiting a small area, disease has spread easily in refugee camps. As of 12 November 2017, diphtheria killed nine Rohingyas and infected about 700 others.[44]

Vaccination status[edit]

Starting from October 2017 Rohingyas migrated in numbers into Bangladesh and started their refugee life in health camp. A massive spread of communicable diseases spread in that area since then. But UN and WHO along with Bangladesh Government were quick enough to start vaccination of the population. As Measles is to be the considered the most dangerous one in this situation, around 136,000 children aged between 6 months and 15 years were vaccinated with MR vaccine. At the same time, additional 72000 children were administered Oral Polio Vaccine and Vitamin A to help prevent measles complication. There has been appointed fixed sites and outreaching teams to help coverage of children under two years to be vaccinated with EPI vaccines. MoHFW and partners administered 900 000 doses of oral cholera vaccine to these populations in two phases. The first phase that started 10 October covered over 700 000 people aged one year and above - both the new arrivals and their host communities, while the second phase from 4 – 9 November provided an additional dose of OCV to 199,472 children between one and five years, for added protection and bOPV to 236,696 children under 5 years of age. [45]


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