Ten Years for the Rohingya Refugees: Past, present and future - report summary
1 April 2002
The year 2002 marks the 10th anniversary of the flight of the Rohingya refugees from Rakhine State, Myanmar to Bangladesh. Discrimination, violence and forced labour practices by the Myanmar authorities triggered an exodus of more than 250,000 Rohingya Muslims between 1991 and 1992.
Since 1992, approximately 232,000 have been returned to Myanmar under a repatriation programme supervised by the UNHCR. Today, more than 21,600 refugees remain in two camps south of Cox's Bazar.
In 1992, the Government of Bangladesh welcomed the refugees and settled them in 20 camps with the notion that their stay was short-term. Now, 10 years later, the Rohingyas continue to live in temporary, emergency-like conditions that are substandard and unhealthy. Prohibited from leaving the camp freely, the refugees remain confined to overcrowded, tight spaces, with insufficient water, inadequate shelter and few educational opportunities.
They are not allowed to work or farm, nor are they provided sufficient food to feed their families. As a result, 58 percent of the refugee children and 53 percent of the adults at the end of 2001 suffer from chronic malnutrition.
Throughout their decade of exile, the Rohingyas have confronted waves of aggression and coercion in their land of refuge. Many have been sent back to Myanmar against their will, in violation of the principle of voluntary repatriation. While incidents of forced repatriation have declined in recent years, violence and intimidation by camp officials persist.
Although refugees have three possible solutions to their situation - repatriation, integration in the host country and resettlement in a third country - the Rohingya refugees do not seem to have a choice. The UNHCR promotes repatriation as the most optimal solution, contending that the security situation in Rakhine State is stable and conducive to their safe return.
But human rights reports, witness accounts, and testimonies from newly arriving Rohingyas state that the situation has not improved. As a result, many refugees are unwilling to repatriate. The Government of Bangladesh does not support local integration of the remaining refugees and the international community has not yet expressed an interest in resettling them in their countries.
Unwanted in their land of birth, and no longer welcomed in their land of refuge, the Rohingya refugees face an uncertain future. Until a political breakthrough is achieved, intermediate and long-term solutions must be sought for those refugees unwilling to return to Myanmar. The living conditions of the refugees and the safety and security in the camps need to be improved. The refugees need to be viewed not as a burden or 'residual caseload,' but as human beings, with hopes, voices, and rights.
Throughout their decade of exile, the Rohingyas have confronted waves of aggression and coercion in their land of refuge. Many have been sent back to Myanmar against their will, in violation of the principle of voluntary repatriation.