What is the Rohingya refugee crisis?
The Rohingya people are one of the most persecuted minority groups in the world. Following a concerted campaign of extreme violence by the Myanmar authorities against Rohingya people in Myanmar’s Rakhine state in August 2017, over 700,000 Rohingya crossed over the border into the Cox's Bazar district of Bangladesh.
The new arrivals joined thousands of other Rohingya who had left during earlier waves of violence and persecution in Myanmar. Most are living in fragile shelters in overcrowded settlements where they are vulnerable to the spread of disease.
This spring, MSF began preparing for COVID-19 in the world's largest refugee camp and scaling up activities. We rolled out COVID-19 training for all staff, on everything from basic infection prevention and control measures to protocols on managing patients with suspected cases. The UN refugee agency reported the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in the camps on May 14. MSF has since treated several patients with COVID-19 and monitored others with suspected cases of the disease. MSF has added isolation wards to all of our medical facilities in Cox’s Bazar and is preparing two dedicated COVID-19 treatment centers. Our focus is on treating all of our patients and ensuring that we can provide the best possible quality of care for COVID-19 while maintaining other essential health services.
Who are the Rohingya?
The Rohingya are a predominantly Muslim ethnic minority who have lived in Myanmar for hundreds of years. Denied citizenship by Myanmar’s government, they are stateless and face particular challenges obtaining access to health care and other basic rights.
Where are the Rohingya refugee camps?
Today, nearly one million Rohingya refugees live in camps and makeshift settlements across Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar peninsula, about 252 miles south of the capital Dhaka.
Seasonal rains and tropical storms increase the risks of flooding and landslides, compounding the dangers for a community that has already suffered so much. MSF is prepared to respond to the medical needs in the aftermath of such natural disasters.
How does Doctors Without Borders help Rohingya refugees?
MSF teams carried out more than 1.3 million medical consultations from August 2017 to June 2019, and continue to treat tens of thousands of patients a month. The most common conditions treated were respiratory infections, diarrheal diseases, and skin diseases—all related to poor living conditions. Teams have also worked to improve water and sanitation services, constructing more sustainable latrines, drilling boreholes, and tube wells, and installing a gravity-fed water supply system, making 193 million liters of chlorinated water available to 77,430 people.
The Rohingya had very limited access to health care in Myanmar, and the majority did not receive routine vaccinations. This makes them highly vulnerable to preventable diseases. Vaccination campaigns, supported by MSF, have been instrumental in preventing outbreaks of cholera and measles, and in containing the spread of diphtheria—a rare disease long forgotten in most parts of the world. In December 2017, MSF warned that diphtheria was re-emerging among the Rohingya. Diphtheria is a contagious bacterial infection known to cause airway obstruction and damage to the heart and nervous system, and can be fatal if left untreated. MSF treated more than 7,032 people for diphtheria in Cox’s Bazar district by the end of June 2018.
We are also responding to the aftermath of horrific violence against the Rohingya committed by security forces and militias in Myanmar during the “clearance operations” that began on August 25, 2017. MSF has gathered accounts from patients from different areas of Rakhine state describing raids on villages, arson attacks, shootings, stabbings, and sexual violence. Our report provides a startling picture of widespread and targeted violence against the Rohingya. Using the most conservative figures, MSF mortality surveys indicate that at least 6,700 Rohingya were killed within the first month of the violent campaign—including at least 730 children under the age of five.
“When the violence broke out, my husband was taken by the Myanmar military,” 25-year-old Humaira told MSF. “When we fled, I was already heavily pregnant. My baby, Ruzina, was born on the river.... I never have enough to eat, and because of that I can’t breastfeed my baby.
Teams provide medical and mental health care to the victims of violence, including sexual violence. MSF is working with other organizations to respond to the additional needs of pregnant survivors of sexual violence and children born as a result of rape. Women and children in the refugee camps are also particularly vulnerable to abuse and exploitation, and have been targeted by human traffickers. An MSF hotline is available for survivors of sexual violence to receive information about how to reach our services as soon as possible.
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*Data covers the period from August 2017 through June 2019.