Over 140,000 Rohingya Refugees Just Escaped Violence. Now They Face Unsafe Housing and Medical Crises
“Without a scale-up of humanitarian support, the potential health risks are extremely concerning.”
The plight of the Rohingya ethnic minority fleeing the state of Rakhine in Myanmar continues to worsen.
For years, the Muslim group has faced persecution at the hands of the majority Buddhist population in Myanmar, where tensions have boiled over into conflict in the past.
Renewed violence erupted this August after a militant Rohingya group attacked members of the Myanmar police force. This prompted violent clashes across the region which continue to displace residents of the Rakhine state.
On Wednesday, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) released a press briefing detailing the severe medical needs of a huge influx of refugees into Bangladesh .
According to MSF, over 146,000 Rohingya refugees have fled violence into Bangladesh since September 6. These numbers don’t include the 75,000 who had already left the Rakhine state since the Myanmar government initiated their military crackdown.
Refugees fleeing the violence are being living throughout a number of makeshift housing operations, including three new pop-up settlements, UNHCR-registered camps, and various locations among the host community of Bangladesh.
Some refugees are even stranded in what MSR refers to as a “no-man's land” between Myanmar and Bangladesh.
No matter where the refugees are housed, most of them face extremely unsafe and overcrowded conditions. Thousands of Rohingya in these new settlements arrived in dire need of medical treatment, including emergency trauma attention, vaccinations, malnutrition treatment, and more.
MSF’s top official in Bangladesh, Paul Kolovos, was shocked by the sheer scale of the crisis as he assisted the influx of refugees over the last few days.
“We’ve not had something on this scale here in many years,” he said in MSF’s press release. “Our teams are seeing streams of people arriving destitute and extremely traumatized, and who have had no access to medical care. Many of the arrivals have serious medical needs, such as violence-related injuries, severely infected wounds, and advanced obstetric complications. Without a scale-up of humanitarian support, the potential health risks are extremely concerning.”
Up until the recently, MSF had been providing a litany of medical services in several towns throughout the Rakhine state, ranging from HIV and TB care, vaccinations, and primary care.
But as of mid-August of this year, the organization was barred from working in the region because their travel authorization had been revoked. In 2014, MSF was also banned from the province for displaying what the Myanmar government called, “pro-Rohingya bias.”
Without the services of MSF, thousands of people in the Rakhine state were left with little to no access to any sort of medical care. Even before violence made conditions severely worse, residents of the Rakhine state routinely face health risks from diseases like malaria and TB, chronic coughing, diarrhea, malnutrition, and lack of access to clean water.
While MSF is increasing its presence in Bangladesh to meet the needs of the fleeing refugees, many are worried about the conditions experienced by the Rohingya remaining in Myanmar who continue to face violence.
“We are alarmed that hundreds of thousands of people still in Myanmar have no access to healthcare and that there are no actors currently able or allowed to respond on the ground,” said Kolovos.
For the thousands of people who managed to escape to Bangladesh, life remains uncertain.
“I fled home with my whole family, but my son was shot while running away,” one father told MSF. “I brought him to the hospital here in Bangladesh, but left the other family members in the forest in Myanmar, in the open air, just hiding there. I haven’t heard from them for days now. I don’t know what to do, I feel so desperate.”