What is the background to the crisis?
At the end of August 2017, violence broke out in Rakhine State, Myanmar leading to one of the fastest population movements in recent decades.
More than 500,000 people – the majority Rohingya women, children and elderly – have fled across the border into Cox’s Bazaar in Bangladesh, one of the country’s poorest and most overpopulated districts. An estimated 400,000 people remain in conflict zones of Rakhine State, Myanmar, where needs are unknown and access is incredibly difficult.
The vast movement of people across the border has put huge strain on existing camps and settlements in Bangladesh, and on host communities who are supporting the new arrivals.
New settlements have formed and are expanding rapidly. Large numbers of people are still arriving every day in densely packed sites, looking for refuge.
On 13 September, Antonio Guterres, the UN Secretary General, described the humanitarian situation facing the people fleeing violence in Rakhine state as ‘catastrophic’ and called for international aid agencies to step up their operations. On 28 September, in his briefing to the UN Security Council, Mr Guterres said: "The situation has spiralled into the world's fastest developing refugee emergency, a humanitarian and human rights nightmare."
What will World Jewish Relief’s response be?
World Jewish Relief has been monitoring the evolving situation since the end of August 2017 while simultaneously responding to Hurricanes in the Caribbean and an earthquake in Mexico. We remain operational in Haiti in response to Hurricane Andrew in 2016, in Nepal following the devastating 2015 earthquake, in Turkey and Greece meeting the needs of Syrian Refugees and in Kenya and Uganda assisting those affected by the food security crisis.
We have been in contact with a well respected Bangladeshi relief agency that is based in Cox’s Bazaar and discussing a possible partnership dependent on our ability to make a substantive difference to the scale of their operation. They are already providing emergency food and water assistance to almost 1,900 newly arrived Rohingya families who have struggled to find food and have no source of income.
Utilising our recently established Disaster Fund, World Jewish Relief is looking to expand the scale of its food assistance programme to newly arrived refugees providing critical support to this complex humanitarian refugee crisis.
World Jewish Relief’s Disaster Fund enables us to rapidly respond to crises anywhere in the world. A contribution to our Disaster Fund will enable World Jewish Relief to consider initiating a major emergency food response programme with a partner agency in Cox’s Bazaar Bangladesh, who are already operational within the Rohingya refugee context. To donate to World Jewish Relief’s Disaster Fund, go to: www.worldjewishrelief.org/disasterfund
Why did hundreds of thousands of people flee Myanmar?
Following a series of attacks on police and military posts in northern Rakhine on 25 August by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) and subsequent security operations by the Myanmar Military, a humanitarian catastrophe has been unfolding. Entire areas have been depopulated as terrified civilians have been fleeing their homes en masse, with village after village being burned to the ground, making it more difficult for people to return.
Although total numbers of people displaced by the conflict are not yet known, it appears that about 94 per cent of those confirmed as displaced so far are Muslims, the rest being Rakhine Buddhists, and other groups such as Mro and Daingnet, and Hindus.
Vast swathes of Rakhine State are now emptied of all Muslim residents. According to the latest reports from the Myanmar Government, 176 Muslim villages are now completely empty. In addition to the displaced Muslim population, 26,700 non-Muslims fled their homes or were evacuated by the Government to other parts of Rakhine, according to Myanmar Government reports.
People are continuing to flee into Bangladesh through different crossing points, including by marine routes into coastal areas on the Bay of Bengal, over the Naf River into Teknaf, and via land crossing points into Ukhia and Bandarban District.
What are the humanitarian needs?
Humanitarian support is not keeping up with the demand. Of particular concern is the potential outbreak of contagious diseases given the low health status of the population, severely crowded conditions in the settlements and poor water and sanitation. The spontaneous settlements in Cox’s Bazaar require proper planning to ensure basic shelter, safety and hygiene standards. The World Health Organization warns of a “very high” risk of a cholera outbreak.
The influx is straining existing basic services in Bangladesh. The Government and aid agencies, coordinated by the International Organization for Migration, have been providing assistance for new arrivals but struggle to cope with the rising needs. The situation is alarming and comes at a time when Bangladesh is dealing with the aftermath of severe flooding and landslides.
Most new arrivals in makeshift settlements and spontaneous sites need immediate food assistance. Overcrowding and lack of space for new shelters is a major concern and almost all arrivals lack the means to make an income. Access to safe water and sanitation is a key priority that must urgently be addressed. Safety and security concerns of women and girls need to immediately be addressed, especially with regards to accessing basic services including water and sanitation facilities. Education is a priority for newly arrived children and efforts need to be made to reduce communal tensions. Rain is forecast to continue over the coming days, exacerbating the risk of disease outbreaks in densely populated areas, and highlighting the need to scale up health, and water and sanitation interventions.
Around 80% of people arriving into Bangladesh are women and children. Women and girls are vulnerable to gender-based violence, especially in unofficial makeshift shelter. Human trafficking is prominent, especially for drugs and sex trafficking. Almost half of all women seeking assistance at women friendly spaces have reported an incident of gender based violence.
To donate to World Jewish Relief’s Disaster Fund, go to: www.worldjewishrelief.org/disasterfund.