190716 rohingya
Rohingya refugees collect sanitary products distributed by aid agencies near Balukhali refugee camp, Bangladesh Image Credit: AP

It has been more than five years now since the Rohingya crisis started in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma. Myanmar army main aim was to rid the country of all the Rohingya populace, the Muslim minority in the country.

Violence against the Rohingya was an ongoing process albeit on a much smaller scale before. Back in 2012, an AP journalist reported that a mob armed with swords and knives invaded a predominantly Muslim village, striking at inhabitants as they went along and burned down homes.

An eyewitness to the scene said that she was petrified when she saw a throng of about 40 armed and frenzied mob approaching her home. Understanding very well what their intentions were, and with no other options but to flee, she escaped with her daughter but could not take her 94-year-old mother in their haste.

When she returned two days later, most of the homes in the village were burned down. She found her mother’s body thrown out on what was once a courtyard with six fatal slashes on her stomach, neck and head. “They set the house on fire. There was nothing we could do but run. We didn’t have time to help her.”

Read more

There were similar acts of bloodshed and destruction in nearby villages. One of the victims described the outcome of those attacks. “After most of the villages had been burnt, the security did not allow us to move from one village to another village to look for lost relatives or allow us to mourn our dead. If the security catches one of us doing that, they might out you behind bars indefinitely without charges.

According to Amnesty International, more than 750,000 Rohingya refugees, mostly women and children, fled Myanmar and crossed into Bangladesh immediately after Myanmar forces launched a crackdown on the minority community in August 2017.

Since Aug. 25, 2017, nearly 24,000 Rohingya have been killed and over 114,000 others beaten, according to a report by the Ontario International Development Agency.

Almost a decade of violence had left behind a trail of dead bodies, broken and burned homes, and refugees who sought safety in neighbouring countries.

Bangladesh's stellar efforts

Bangladesh was one of the countries that initially embraced the flux of desperate refugees, and with the country’s resources strained by the arrival of more than a million refugees, the Bangladeshi government needed international help.

Earlier this year, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) called for international support for those who escaped the brutality in Myanmar and also for the Bangladeshi communities hosting them.

A Joint Response Plan for the Rohingya Humanitarian Crisis was launched with humanitarian agencies tasked to seek more than $880 million to support around 1.4 million people, which included more than 900,000 Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar and around 540,000 Bangladeshis in neighbouring communities.

“The joint plan is under the leadership of the Bangladeshi authorities, and it brings together the activities of 136 partners, of which 74 are Bangladeshi organisations,” UNHCR spokesman Babar Baloch said.

WLD 190827 Rohingya22-1566899526164
Rohingya refugees continue their way after crossing from Myanmar into Palang Khali, near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh Image Credit: Reuters

Declaring that the Bangladesh government, supported by the international community, has been generously hosting Rohingya refugees for more than a decade, Baloch added, “As global displacement continues to rise, UNHCR and partners are emphasising the need to ensure that the Rohingya situation does not become a forgotten crisis.”

No one wants to be a refugee

The 2022 Joint Plan highlights the need for enhanced efforts toward disaster risk management and climate change mitigation, including reforestation and energy interventions.

“Yet the solutions ultimately lie within Myanmar, with many Rohingya refugees expressing their desire to return home when conditions allow,” Baloch said. That is understandable as no one wants to be a refugee in a foreign land.

Nearly 1.2 million Rohingyas who fled a brutal military crackdown in Rakhine state in their home country of Myanmar in August 2017 are currently being hosted by Bangladesh, a country whose economy is already strained with a population in excess of 166 million people.

They are in desperate need of outside help, and until the plight of the Rohingyas does not command front-page headlines, the desperately needed infusion of aid will be few and far in between.

We as moral citizens of the world can help in our own way. Every little bit goes a long way to restore the dignity of these displaced people. Just remember that being a refugee is not a matter of choice.

Tariq A. Al Maeena is a Saudi sociopolitical commentator. He lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Twitter: @talmaeena