Bangladesh: Responding to the Plight of the Rohingya

30 October 2017|Isabelle Shively, JRS International Communications Assistant

(Jesuit Refugee Service)

As the refugee crisis in Bangladesh continues to increase, JRS Deputy International Director, Fr. Joseph Xavier SJ, is evaluating opportunities for JRS to support Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. There are currently over 500,000 people there who have fled violence in the Rakhine State of Myanmar since August 2017.

According to the Inter-Sectoral Coordination Group (ISCG), about 730,716 Rohingyas now live in Ukhia and Teknaf, two sub-districts of Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. The total number of refugees is likely larger than reported, as many Rohingya arrived in Bangladesh before the most recent outbreak of violence that engulfed their homeland this summer.

The government of Bangladesh, which controls relief operations through the NGO bureau, has come forward to receive those who are fleeing Myanmar. However, the high influx of refugees poses complex challenges to its current relief operations and the operations of UN agencies and INGOs/NGOs.

Of the hundreds of thousands of Rohingya who have fled Myanmar, many children are without parents, left to survive the traumas they have witnessed with relatives or simply by themselves. Similarly, parents have lost their children, often in the same violence that also destroyed their villages, homes, and livelihoods. The future of new generations is at risk as pregnant women lack access to maternal healthcare facilities.

Minimal resources have reached the displaced population, and this is only expected to change once the government approves pending humanitarian aid project applications. In the meantime, thousands of people wait in terrible conditions for food and non-food items, psychosocial support, education, and healthcare.

The lack of proper sanitation facilities and water makes the outbreak of communicable diseases a major concern for those living in registered and unregistered refugee camps, especially as monsoon rains continue to pour. With resentment growing among the host community, prolonged delay in aid could bring about chaos and furthered violence. Additionally, malnutrition threatens both children and adults who survive only on meager rice rations.

Many humanitarian donors and organizations have expressed their solidarity and compassion with the families and communities in need. As aid is slowly delivered to those in need, JRS and other organizations like the United Nations continue to find ways to assist.

Over the past few weeks, Fr. Xavier has also worked closely with other JRS staff, including Fr. Stan Fernandes SJ, the regional director of JRS South Asia, Jesuits, and Caritas Bangladesh (CB) to explore opportunities for JRS to begin emergency and long-term intervention support. For now, JRS plans to partner with Caritas Bangladesh to commence emergency support by November 2017. After this initial aid phase, JRS will investigate opportunities for long-term engagement.

Supported by the Church of Bangladesh, Caritas Bangladesh, and local Jesuit communities, especially those in Bangladesh and Kolkata, JRS sees beginning outreach to the Rohingya as an organizational priority. In all its work, JRS promotes the dignity of every individual; for Rohingyas in Myanmar and in the Rakhine State, urgent aid is needed if their lives are to be preserved and their dignity respected.