How did the Rohingya crisis start?
MSF has been present in Bangladesh since 1985. The current response in Cox's Bazar started in 2009 when Kutupalong Field Hospital was established to serve refugees and the host community. Following the 2017 departure of Rohingya refugees fleeing violence in Myanmar, MSF scaled up activities in Bangladesh. In 2019, MSF's programming transitioned towards addressing longer-term health needs, such as chronic illnesses like high blood pressure and diabetes. The drivers of this violence are the situations of containment and exclusion, creating an increasingly unsafe environment in which the Rohingya are incredibly vulnerable.
The living conditions experienced by Rohingya in the refugee camps are rooted in a reality of containment and rights deprivation. They live in overcrowded and unsanitary camps that are at high risk of flooding and landslides; they have limited access to necessities, including food, water, sanitation, education, and health care. As of September 2023, only 30% of the humanitarian funding required for essential services for Rohingya people is funded, and the decrease in the level of humanitarian funding has dire consequences for Rohingya. Since the start of 2023, the food ration distributed to Rohingya has decreased by 40%, for instance.
Rohingya refugee crisis documentary
In the camps, Rohingya refugees are living in containment, and their rights are severely restricted (no right to work/limitations to the right to move freely, etc.). These restrictions have been toughened over time, with fences around the camps and limited movements in and out. Accessing health care is difficult because patients often walk long distances over rough terrain, even when injured, pregnant or otherwise hurt or sick.
'Out of Fear' is a 28-minute documentary based on testimonies of Rohingya youth, highlighting the blatant despair and lack of perspectives this new generation is growing up in. The youth portrayed in this documentary were either born stateless in their parents' homeland of Myanmar before fleeing widespread targeted violence in 2017 – or were born in refugee camps in Bangladesh, where nearly 1 million people live in limbo.
People fleeing violence in Myanmar
The situation in Myanmar remains precarious, which leads to many people, not only Rohingya, choosing to flee the country. Life for Rohingya in Myanmar is incredibly challenging, with restrictions on all aspects of their life.
Having been denied their citizenship in Myanmar in 1982, the overwhelming majority of Rohingya lack legal travel documents. This is a consequence of being stateless – they have no legal means to travel between countries. They must resort to trafficking networks to escape conditions in Bangladesh and Myanmar.
Families who want to reunite and may be split between different countries have no legal means. Their choices to take dangerous journeys by boat or otherwise are symptomatic of a broken system that does not recognise them as refugees in need of protection.
Sexual violence in the Rohingya refugee camps
We provide comprehensive care to an increasing number of survivors of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV); from 2019 to 2022, our patients have more than doubled (from 1,245 in 2019, we observed a steady increase of patients to 2,693 in 2022). MSF responds to sexual violence around the world; it is a systemic problem in all societies. Here in the camps, physical violence is a problem exacerbated by the situations of containment and exclusion, creating an increasingly unsafe environment for the Rohingya.
In the mother and child hospital of Goyalmara - the clinic where the documentary was shot - MSF regularly receives patients who have experienced domestic violence, such as beatings and other kinds of physical violence. Others have experienced rape perpetrated by unknown men but also by husbands and family members. Many survivors report barriers to access to health care, citing that they have limited information on SGBV and that they must travel long distances to reach health services, with limited access to transportation.
Is there a solution to the Rohingya crisis?
As a medical humanitarian organisation working in the camps, MSF witnesses the consequences of Rohingya's containment, being at the root of many of their daily struggles. There is a lack of international political solutions, meaning very few options for their survival.
The Government of Bangladesh has a de-facto responsibility to Rohingya refugees in the camps of Cox's Bazar. However, one country cannot respond to this crisis alone. In the absence of long-term and sustainable solutions in Bangladesh, Myanmar or other nations, we want to highlight that there is an urgent need and responsibility for an increased response from the international community, including governments and donors, to answer Rohingya's needs to prevent their situation from deteriorating even further.
How is MSF helping in Rohingya?
MSF runs ten medical facilities in the camps of Cox's Bazar, providing a range of services such as emergency and intensive care, paediatrics, obstetrics, sexual and reproductive healthcare, treatment for victims of sexual violence, hepatitis C, and care for patients with non-communicable diseases. MSF also plays a crucial role in supporting the maintenance of wastewater services and human waste treatment.