The world watched in horror last August as hundreds of thousands of Rohingya, a Muslim ethnic minority in Myanmar's Rakhine state, fled violent conflict and persecution and crossed the border into neighboring Bangladesh. Even now, Rohingya Muslims are still fleeing persecution at the hands of the Burmese military, and the number of recent Rohingya refugees since August continues to inch toward the 700,000 mark.
But the Rohingya community currently living in makeshift shelters in Bangladesh’s refugee camps are faced with a new problem: how to raise the more than 16,000 babies that have been born in these camps.
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“Around 60 babies a day are taking their first breath in appalling conditions, away from home, to mothers who have survived displacement, violence, trauma and, at times, rape,” Edouard Beigbeder, UNICEF Representative in Bangladesh, said in a statement. “This is far from the best start in life.”
Of the thousands of refugee babies born in the district of Cox’s Bazar, where the majority of Bangladesh’s Rohingya refugee camps are located, approximately 19% were delivered in health facilities. This means that many births have not been registered, which could impact the children’s access to basic services later in life, and that many mothers and infants have not received medical attention or health support yet, according to UNICEF.
The packed refugee camps, which include the massive Kutupalong-Balukhali settlement, are home to nearly 1 million Rohingya refugees. Many of them have lived in the camps for years, having fled previous bouts of violence. The close quarters, lack of sanitation, and lack of resources make the camps the perfect environment for outbreak of diseases like cholera. And the upcoming monsoon season threatens to bring with it mosquito-borne illnesses, including malaria and dengue, according to UN agencies.
Read more: 60,000 Rohingya Children Are Living in ‘Literal Cesspools’, UNICEF Says
But aside from immediate health concerns, new mothers and young children in the camp have a long road ahead of them. As Rohingya Muslims fled their homes in mass numbers last fall, reports of widespread sexual violence and rape committed by the Burmese military began to emerge. It is unclear how many of the women and girls becoming new mothers in the camp now are survivors of sexual assault and in need of support.
“It is impossible to know the true number of babies who have been or will be born as a result of sexual violence,” Beigbeder said. “But it is vital that each and every new and expectant mother and every newborn receive all the help and support they need.”
Though the waves of Rohingya refugees making their way to Bangladesh have now been significantly reduced, Rohingya Muslims are still fleeing Myanmar. And they’re not the only ones fleeing violence in the Southeast Asian country. Thousands of Kachin Christians have abandoned their homes seeking safety in Myitkyina, the capital of Myanmar's Kachin state bordering China, the Guardian reported.
Read more: After Genocide: What Happens Next for the Rohingya Refugees?
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