© UNHCR/Vincent Tremeau
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Myanmar situation 2021

Since the military takeover in February, widespread violence against civilians has deepened displacement patterns, as Rohingya continue to seek refuge in neighbouring host countries.

Since the military takeover in Myanmar on 1 February 2021, widespread violence against civilians, and clashes between the Myanmar Armed Forces and ethnic armed organisations in border areas, has forcibly displaced thousands of people within Myanmar and to neighbouring countries.

Approximately 50,000 people have been displaced internally. Some 5,000 have sought refuge in neighbouring Thailand, with most since returned to Myanmar, and another 5,000 in India. These civilians join almost 880,000 Rohingya seeking safety across the region, compounding the crisis.

As those displaced since February are fleeing persecution or generalised violence, UNHCR is calling on countries across the region to offer refuge and protection to all individuals from Myanmar who are seeking safety.

Adding to the complexity of the Rohingya emergency, the COVID-19 pandemic has increased vulnerabilities for refugees and host communities alike. To date, the Government of Bangladesh, with the support of the humanitarian community, has effectively managed the COVID-19 response and the spread of the disease in the Rohingya camps and surrounding areas. This coordinated and inclusive response has saved lives. However, it is critical to ensure the continued delivery of all humanitarian assistance and protection services as the trajectory of the virus remains unpredictable.

Sokina, 35, is a local Bangladeshi woman who fell ill with COVID-19 in January 2021. She has since recovered, and was very happy with the treatment provided. While in the UNHCR supported health clinic, she befriended the other female patients, including two refugees.

 

Health Extension
Sokina, 35, is a local Bangladeshi woman who fell ill with COVID-19 in January 2021. She has since recovered, and was very happy with the treatment provided. ©UNHCR/Kamrul Hasan

“We talked together and we shared our experiences. We really did become like a family. Mostly we talked about life and the struggles we are all going through.”

Fire Extension
A massive fire devastated Rohingya refugee settlements in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh in March 2021. © UNHCR/Louise Donovan

In 2020, one of the key priorities of UNHCR was to improve health services in order to ensure access to health facilities, as a part of COVID-19 response for both Rohingya refugees and host communities. Huge strides were made in the establishment of two COVID-19 hospitals and Cox’s Bazar’s first ICU in the government run hospital.

The needs of Rohingya refugees reach beyond subsistence and physical safety. Forced to scale back to critical activities in light of COVID-19, UNHCR has been unable to roll out curriculum and skills-building activities in Myanmar. Development assistance for host communities is still needed to reduce the impact of the displacement crisis in the region.

A Joint Response Plan (JRP) was launched last month to consider how to provide humanitarian assistance to more than 470,000 Bangladeshi in targeted host communities across Cox’s Bazar District.

Bangladesh, already affected by severe climactic conditions such as monsoon and cyclones, is under huge environmental strain to accommodate camps with tens of thousands of refugees. Re-greening is a huge priority that UNHCR is aiming to address, especially since the Cox’s Bazar fire in March that destroyed the shelters of 45,000 Rohingya refugees.

After fleeing to Kutupalong, the world’s largest refugee settlement in the hills around Cox’s Bazar, Rahima Khatun and her husband Abul Kalam, lived in fear that heavy monsoon rains would wash away their home. Their anxieties have eased after they were relocated to a new bamboo-framed shelter on stilts with their three-year-old son Ayaz and his baby brother Arafat.

“Volunteers helped us the day we moved. We cooked a good meal and shared it with our new neighbours.”

The couple fled Buthidaung, Myanmar, when their neighbourhood was attacked in August 2017. Their story is similar to hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees who fled the violent military crackdown and crossed the border into Bangladesh over the past two and a half years.

Families have found safety in Bangladesh but also challenging conditions including lack of infrastructure, inadequate sanitation and the threat of flooding and landslides. In a joint effort, UNHCR has helped replace and repair tens of thousands of shelters, built extensive road networks, installed drainage, bridges and solar-powered streetlights, and opened dozens of health facilities and nutrition centres.

The direct participation of Rohingya refugees in the response “improves quality of humanitarian services and builds resilience – indeed, the self-reliance of the refugee community is a building block of the overall solution for the situation of the refugees when they are repatriated to Myanmar,” explained António Vitorino, Director General of the International Organization for Migration at the JRP.

Approximately $350 million was pledged before and during the JRP against more than $943 million requested to carry out humanitarian activities.

In order to mitigate the risks of people taking dangerous onward journeys, more must be done to ensure that refugees have hope in Bangladesh, and of a future back home in Myanmar. Otherwise, they may increasingly risk such journeys by land and sea to find a solution.  

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© UNHCR/Vincent Tremeau
Twenty-seven-year-old Rohingya refugee, Abul Kalam, holds his 17-month-old baby Arafat and three-year-old son Ayaz in the doorway of the new monsoon-ready shelter he shares with his wife, Rahima Khatun, in Kutupalong settlement. © UNHCR/Vincent Tremeau

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