Since 25 August 2017, an intensification of targeted violence has seen over 626,000 Rohingya refugees driven out of Myanmar’s Rakhine state across the border into Bangladesh in what became the world’s fastest refugee influx in decades. They joined others who had earlier sought safety and protection from horrific violations of their human rights.
By December 2017, 832,000 refugees have entered Bangladesh, equivalent to a whole city’s population. 88 percent are now in makeshift camps, accommodating up to 95 thousand people per square kilometer. Bangladeshi authorities have responded admirably, complemented by the international humanitarian community. However, due to the overwhelming scope and scale of the influx, a lack of basic services and difficult living conditions leave these Rohingya vulnerable to malnutrition, health problems and exposed to major protection concerns.
Child Protection concerns
The vulnerability experienced in camps is extreme for children. Most of those arriving are minors: half a million innocent children who have become caught up in the crisis. Some are unaccompanied or became separated from their adult carers in the course of the perilous journey from Myanmar. They often lack safe places to stay and face an increased risk of abuse, neglect and exploitation, being trafficked, exposure to HIV/AIDS, child labor, lack of parental care, discrimination and recruitment into armed forces. Girls are particularly vulnerable. Rohingya women and girls are too often either survivors of, or witnesses to, multiple incidents of sexual assault, rape, or gang rape, both before and after their arrival. Fear and uncertainty prevalent among females in the camps also increase the likelihood of child marriage, given that arranged marriages were already common-place for under-18 Rohingya girls.
To protect the physical health of Rohingya and the local Bangladeshi population, immunization against common diseases is vital, as 97 percent of children arriving into camp conditions are unprotected. “We are doing a vaccination campaign under the auspices of the Ministry of Health and our teams covered over 150,000 children in the last six months alone”, says AMURT’s Mukteswar Biswal.
The volunteer-assisted campaigns are effective, but often it’s a race against time. Diptheria which spread in the camps is a highly infectious respiratory disease, previously eliminated in Bangladesh. It can be controlled through awareness, referrals, diagnosis, isolation, treatment and in the long run through vaccination. After three rounds of Diphtheria vaccinations to both refugee and local Bangladeshi children nearby the epidemic has been controlled.
Consistent mental health and psychosocial support services are crucial to help girls, boys and their families to cope and begin to heal.
“Displacement itself causes a lot of anxiety; refugees think of it as an existential crisis.” Mukteswar talks about child-rights violations, “We look at it with a humanitarian angle”, not as journalists. Child-friendly spaces (CFS) are AMURT’s proven program to give children in a crisis situation the opportunity to gain a sense of stability, through a structured routine and psychological support. “We have done child-friendly spaces previously in Haiti, in Lebanon, Myanmar, Philippines, Indonesia, also Nepal.”
The CFS program in Bangladesh is structured into themes that address specific needs and common issues facing the refugee children in the camps. The CFS also operate as protection hubs dealing with sexual and gender-based violence, case referrals, and rights advocacy.
One aspect of AMURT’s CFS program is to gradually stimulate a child’s curiosity and love for learning to prepare them for non-formal education activities. Educational possibilities for refugee children are limited, so AMURT transition children who have been suitably prepared into basic numeracy and literacy classes.
From 2019 the classes are organized based on competancy levels in English, Burmese language, mathematics and lifeskills. Baseline assessments in January 2019 showed that 85% of the children are at level 1 and can only count to 10 and recognize letters but not words.
AMURT’s local Bangladeshi partner is SKUS (Social Welfare and Development Organization), an independent Bangladesh NGO, operating since 1995 in coordination with the UN, government and other key actors on activities including education, women’s empowerment, HIV, livelihoods and rights advocacy. They have been working with undocumented Rohingya since 2015.
AMURT’s response in Bangladesh was initiated by private donations and sustained by grants from Kindenothilfe (Germany).
Download AMURT Rohingya Refugee Response presentation