July 30, 2010

Rohingya women wait inside an MSF clinic in a makeshift refugee camp in Kutupalong, in southern Bangladesh, where thousands of stateless Rohingya have come in search of medical assistance and support.

Bangladesh 2009 © Espen Rasmussen/MSF

Rohingya women wait inside a clinic operated by Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in a makeshift refugee camp in Kutupalong, in southern Bangladesh. In January and February, thousands of stateless Rohingya arrived at the camp in search of medical assistance and support after what appeared to be a violent crackdown by the government of Bangladesh.

The Rohingya are a Muslim minority ethnic group from Rhakine state in western Myanmar, where they are denied citizenship. In Bangladesh, the majority of Rohingya are refused official refugee status, and only one-tenth of the estimated 200,000 to 300,000 Rohingya in the country qualify for assistance from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Many of the rest endure persecution and periodic campaigns to forcibly repatriate them. As unregistered refugees, the Rohingya have no legal rights and are forced to live unassisted on the outskirts of the state-endorsed refugee camp.

Since October 2009, 6,000 refugees have arrived to Kutupalong; 2,000 entered the camp last January alone, pushing the camp’s population to nearly 29,000. As their numbers rise, the squalid, overcrowded living conditions pose serious medical risks.

MSF has assisted the Rohingya in Bangladesh since 1992, developing a primary healthcare program that includes community outreach and outpatient and inpatient care. Of late MSF has treated patients for beatings, machete wounds, and rape. “I thought I ran away to find shelter, but before even staying one week thieves came and robbed me of the money I had, cut us with machetes and wanted us to die,” said one patient. “Where do I run to now?”