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June 18, 2024
Humanitarian Response

The Rohingya: A forgotten crisis


By Madison Jansen, Senior Humanitarian Programmes Officer

Arriving into the Rohingya refugee camp in southern Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, it’s hard to imagine that nearly a decade ago, this expansive settlement was instead a thick, lush forest. Beginning in 2017, trees and greenery conceded to bamboo and tarpaulin infrastructure, forming the world’s largest refugee camp, home to the world’s largest ‘stateless’ population, caught in the world’s largest protracted refugee crisis.

The journey to this point begins with the Rohingya, a predominately Muslim ethnic group native to Myanmar’s Rakhine State. Following discrimination from the Myanmar government, Rohingya people were denied citizenship and inclusion in state census polls, effectively rendering them as ‘stateless.’

In 2017, discrimination reached its peak when Myanmar’s military began a violent crackdown against an opposition Rohingya force, leading to the brutal murder of thousands of Rohingya civilians and catalysing the displacement of nearly a million more into neighbouring Bangladesh over the next decade. While Bangladesh provides refuge, it is refuge within limits. Rohingya are legally unable to live outside the camps or be employed in the Bangladeshi labour market, and there are even restrictions on how much income they can earn while inside the camps.

Even beyond these strict rules imposed by the Bangladeshi government, life in the camps for the Rohingya is tough. Refugees live in makeshift bamboo and tarpaulin shelters, and several households may live together in one small shelter. These homes, in combination with the steep hilly terrain on which they are nested, provide little protection when cyclones and monsoons hit. These powerful and cyclical storms are becoming much more intense and frequent due to climate change.

Rohingya refugee camp in Bangladesh

But challenges also extend outside the confines of the camp. In fact, the surrounding communities nearby to the refugee camp, called the ‘host communities’, are some of the most impoverished in the country. For this reason, the Bangladeshi government requires that a percentage of all humanitarian support in the area must be allocated towards the host communities as well.

World Jewish Relief, drawing on its rich history of aiding refugees since 1933, has partnered with local organisations since 2018 to provide essential aid for Rohingya refugees and host communities. With the support and expertise from our local partner Prottyashi, we are currently focused on building toilets and bathing facilities.

This work is critical, as many of the older facilities have been damaged or destroyed by the strong storms which frequently impact the region. Not having access to latrines and bathing facilities not only neglects a person’s right to dignity, but presents significant danger for women and girls, who may be exposed to harm or harassment if they have nowhere to safely wash or use the toilet.

Moreover, because of the unforgiving, hilly terrain in the region, facilities that are accessible to people with disabilities or reduced mobility are uncommon, which is why we are building facilities that prioritise accessibility. By the end of this year, our support is expected to provide 1,500 people with access to safe, inclusive and dignified facilities.

Preparing and responding to sudden emergencies in the Rohingya camp and host community is also a priority for World Jewish Relief. In May 2023, using the timely information provided by Prottyashi, we provided food and evacuation support to Rohingya and host communities before Cyclone Mocha struck. This proactive approach meant people were better prepared for the cyclone’s impact, leading to faster recovery and fewer injuries. We also provided essential hygiene kits and clothing to Rohingya impacted by the large fire that broke out in the camp in March last year. Because of the densely populated nature of the camps, fires like these very quickly destroy thousands of homes and lives.

Today, Myanmar’s military continues to commit atrocities against the Rohingya population. Since February this year, over 1,000 Rohingya people across Myanmar and Bangladesh have been conscripted to fight in the ongoing conflict, being abducted and forced to defend the very group routinely denying them of their rights.

However, what’s happening to the Rohingya is largely outside of the international spotlight, resulting in severe funding shortfalls that make it difficult to support the 95% of the Rohingya population that depend on humanitarian aid to survive. World Jewish Relief stands shoulder to shoulder with vulnerable communities across the world, and remains committed to addressing these ‘forgotten’ crises and providing support to the most vulnerable.

Inspired to take action?

For over 90 years, World Jewish Relief has stood shoulder to shoulder with refugees from around the world. In the 1930s and 40s, we rescued and supported over 65,000 Jewish refugees from Nazi occupied Europe, and today, we continue to provide life-changing action to refugees in crisis across the world. Inspired to take action? Get involved with our upcoming fundraising campaign and stand shoulder to shoulder with people in crisis.