SUSPENDED IN TIME

IN AUGUST 2017, OVER 700,000 ROHINGYA PEOPLE BEGAN TO FLEE VIOLENCE IN MYANMAR - TWO YEARS ON, FAMILIES ARE STILL WAITING TO RETURN HOME

Rozia, a young Rohingya mother, with her newborn son Mohammed Miguel - named after an MSF nurse who treated them © Vincenzo Livieri

Rozia, a young Rohingya mother, with her newborn son Mohammed Miguel - named after an MSF nurse who treated them © Vincenzo Livieri

Rozia, a young Rohingya mother, with her newborn son Mohammed Miguel - named after an MSF nurse who treated them © Vincenzo Livieri

Arunn Jegan is an MSF emergency coordinator from Australia, working to deliver medical aid to Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh.

From Kutupalong - the largest refugee camp in the world - he shares their story...

MSF emergency coordinator Arunn Jegan © Antonio Faccilongo

"I first came to Kutupalong in Cox's Bazar in June 2017. At the time, thousands of Rohingya - a persecuted minority group - were already in Bangladesh having fled previous waves of targeted violence in Myanmar.

Even then, the needs were massive.

VISIBLE TRAUMA

I returned as project coordinator that August, as hundreds of thousands more were beginning to arrive.

It was obvious the Rohingya were fleeing violence – in one two-week period between August and September 2017, we watched pillars of smoke, most likely from houses and villages being burned, at several points across the border.

"The Rohingya have been completely suspended in time - this status quo is not something we should accept"
ARUNN JEGAN | MSF EMERGENCY COORDINATOR

At the border crossings, we saw Rohingya arriving with burns, gunshots, lacerations, and smoke asphyxiation. The trauma was visible on people’s faces and bodies.

They settled in camps that were already well below basic living standards, and where there had been very few aid organisations working previously.

One of the most striking things was the lack of dignity people had. 

Pregnant women and children were left virtually abandoned, people were forced to defecate in the open, and they were ordered around by many different people and organisations. They did not seem to have much say in what happened to them.

September 2017: A young boy, injured in the violence, sits on a bed in MSF's Kutupalong medical centre © Antonio Faccilongo

Two years on, there are now better roads, more latrines and clean water points in and around the camps. There is more sense of order.

However, conditions in the camps remain precarious and big questions about people’s futures are still unanswered.

MSF emergency coordinator Arunn Jegan  © Antonio Faccilongo

MSF emergency coordinator Arunn Jegan © Antonio Faccilongo

MSF emergency coordinator Arunn Jegan © Antonio Faccilongo

September 2017: A young boy, injured in the violence, sits on a bed in MSF's Kutupalong medical centre © Antonio Faccilongo

September 2017: A young boy, injured in the violence, sits on a bed in MSF's Kutupalong medical centre © Antonio Faccilongo

September 2017: A young boy, injured in the violence, sits on a bed in MSF's Kutupalong medical centre © Antonio Faccilongo

Kushida, an MSF health promoter, speaks to a group of Rohingya women about the importance of vaccinations © Vincenzo Livieri

Kushida, an MSF health promoter, speaks to a group of Rohingya women about the importance of vaccinations © Vincenzo Livieri

Kushida, an MSF health promoter, speaks to a group of Rohingya women about the importance of vaccinations © Vincenzo Livieri

PROOF OF HUMANITY

One of the most revealing conversations I’ve had was with a family I first met two years ago.

The father recently told me:

“Many NGOs are looking at this crisis from the perspective of the last two years, but I’m looking at it from the past 40 years – my whole life.

“I’m still trying to prove my identity as a human and that causes me immense pain and suffering.”

The Rohingya have been completely suspended in time - this status quo is not something we should accept.

"We have to step up and ensure that they aren’t just getting food and water but a future too"
ARUNN JEGAN | MSF EMERGENCY COORDINATOR

There is no legal way for the Rohingya to work in Bangladesh, which contributes to massive social, economic and financial pressure.

Education provides a path for any community to sustain and advance themselves, but Rohingya children aren’t allowed formal schooling.

Access to specialised care is another big issue – there are healthcare services available, but with limited freedom of movement, the level of care required is often out of reach.

Mental health also remains stigmatised within the Rohingya community, as in much of the world.

THE HOPE OF RETURNING HOME

Amid all the uncertainty, one thing is clear. This is not the time for the humanitarian response to scale down.

Over 912,000 Rohingya are now in Bangladesh. We need to be talking about what we are doing for their future, in Myanmar and countries hosting the Rohingya, like Bangladesh.

And yet, short-term thinking continues for a long-term problem.

The community is highly dependent on aid and we need to ask how long that can last. If we are looking for sustainable solutions, then the Rohingya need a plan for the future that includes access to things like jobs and education.

When I think of the future for the Rohingya, my biggest hope is that they are able to return home safely. Until then, I hope they are afforded greater self-sufficiency, education rights, as well as the legal recognition they deserve.

If these things don’t happen now, I fear the Rohingya will be in the same situation in another two years, only with even fewer services available to them.

Any decrease in aid should only come in tandem with growing self-sufficiency.

A woman carrying food back to her family shelter © Vincenzo Livieri
MSF medical staff providing a health check for new arrivals at the camp © Sara Creta/MSF

FOOD, WATER AND A FUTURE

History has repeated itself with the Rohingya and they remain forgotten.

If this happened in Australia, where I’m from, the world would pay attention. We have an opportunity to do better by them.

The Government of Bangladesh has been accommodating but it’s not their burden to carry alone. This is a regional issue affecting all of Myanmar’s neighbours, as well as an international one.

We have to step up and ensure that they aren’t just getting food and water but a future too."

Arunn Jegan
MSF emergency coordinator

MSF continues to treat tens of thousands of patients every month in Cox's Bazar - performing over 1.3 million consultations between August 2017 and June 2019.

REFUGEE STORIES

From Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh to Myanmar's own displacement camps, the Rohingya remain locked out from their homeland...

BANGLADESH

AN UNCERTAIN FUTURE

A young girl runs through an alley in the overcrowded Kutupalong refugee "megacamp" © Dalila Mahdawi/MSF

A young girl runs through an alley in the overcrowded Kutupalong refugee "megacamp" © Dalila Mahdawi/MSF

A young girl runs through an alley in the overcrowded Kutupalong refugee "megacamp" © Dalila Mahdawi/MSF

In Bangladesh, over 912,000 Rohingya still live in the same basic bamboo structures as when they first arrived.

Many of the illnesses MSF treats at its clinics in Cox’s Bazar are a result of the poor living conditions that the Rohingya endure, including limited access to clean water and sanitation.

"It’s difficult to plan a future for our children"
Bibi Jan | Rohingya refugee in Bangladesh

Sitting in a tea shop in Kutupalong megacamp, Bibi Jan tugs on her sleeve. She’s covering up scars from August 2017...

She tells us of the events that forced her to flee to Bangladesh: her two brothers were killed. She was stabbed. Her village was razed to the ground.

Rohingya refugee Bibi Jan sits at a tea stall with her five-year-old son, Fayezorahman, in Kutupalong megacamp © Dalila Mahdawi/MSF

With children unable to attend formal schooling, future generations are further deprived of an opportunity to improve their situation.

“I want to send my children to school but I don’t have enough money and we can’t leave the camp, so it’s difficult to plan a future for them,” says Bibi Jan.

“If we worked, we wouldn’t need rations. We could survive on our own.”

 Rohingya refugee Bibi Jan sits at a tea stall with her five-year-old son, Fayezorahman, in Kutupalong megacamp © Dalila Mahdawi/MSF

Rohingya refugee Bibi Jan sits at a tea stall with her five-year-old son, Fayezorahman, in Kutupalong megacamp © Dalila Mahdawi/MSF

Rohingya refugee Bibi Jan sits at a tea stall with her five-year-old son, Fayezorahman, in Kutupalong megacamp © Dalila Mahdawi/MSF

MYANMAR

"WE HOLD OUR FRUSTRATION INSIDE"

A young man looks on at the outskirts of Ah Nauk Ye camp, home to almost 5,000 people © Scott Hamilton/MSF

A young man looks on at the outskirts of Ah Nauk Ye camp, home to almost 5,000 people © Scott Hamilton/MSF

A young man looks on at the outskirts of Ah Nauk Ye camp, home to almost 5,000 people © Scott Hamilton/MSF

Suleiman at his home in Nget Chaung village, located in an remote but overcrowded and squalid area © Scott Hamilton/MSF

Suleiman at his home in Nget Chaung village, located in an remote but overcrowded and squalid area © Scott Hamilton/MSF

Suleiman at his home in Nget Chaung village, located in an remote but overcrowded and squalid area © Scott Hamilton/MSF

The situation facing the Rohingya still in Myanmar is similarly bleak.

In 1982, a citizenship law rendered them effectively stateless. In recent years, they have been stripped of even more of their rights, ranging from civic inclusion, the right to education and marriage, to family planning, freedom of movement and access to healthcare.

“People here are sad, they are frustrated that they can’t go anywhere or do anything more"
Suleiman | Rohingya community memeber in Nget Chaung

In 2012, violence between the Rohingya and Rakhine communities left entire villages destroyed. Since then, some 128,000 Rohingya and Kaman muslims in central Rakhine have lived in overcrowded and squalid displacement camps. Denied freedom of movement and jobs, as well as access to basic services, they likewise rely entirely on humanitarian assistance.

Suleiman at his home in Nget Chaung village, located in an remote but overcrowded and squalid area © Scott Hamilton/MSF

“There aren’t any real opportunities for employment here,” says Suleiman, a Rohingya living in Nget Chaung – an area where some 9,000 people live. “There are hardly any fish to catch either.”

“Because there’s so little trade, we can’t buy the things we want.

“People here are sad, they are frustrated that they can’t go anywhere or do anything more.

“We hold our frustration inside because we cannot speak out – there are no opportunities for that. We cannot even travel to the next township, so people keep everything inside, bottled up.”

An estimated 550,000 to 600,000 Rohingya remain across Rakhine State.

Their already difficult lives have become harder as they and other communities suffer the consequences of a worsening conflict between the Myanmar military and the Arakan Army, an ethnic Rakhine armed group.

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