Myanmar is officially on the State Department’s list of countries that violate religious freedoms, as hundreds of thousands of Rohingya continue to struggle for survival in over-crowded refugee camps, with their numbers about to swell by nearly 50,000.
The new additions won’t be running across the border into neighboring Bangladesh — they will be babies born in tents at refugee camps holding over 650,000 Rohingya Muslims who have fled a horrific campaign of ethnic cleansing — and possibly genocide — in Myanmar that started in late August. According to the U.N. children’s agency, 60 percent of those at the refugee camps in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazaar are children.
According to Save the Children, an estimated 48,000 babies are expected in 2018, or around 130 a day. Most of them will not have access to basic sanitation and health care, says Rachael Cummings, the aid organization’s health advisor in Cox’s Bazar.
“The disadvantage these newborn Rohingya babies will face, by virtue of the situation they are born into, is truly heartbreaking. From the very beginning they will battle odds stacked against them, living in an overcrowded environment where everyone is desperate for help,” said Cummings in a statement on the Save the Children site.
There’s currently no end in sight for the horrific situation facing the Rohingya, a minority in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, where they have no citizenship rights and have been living under what Amnesty International has called apartheid-like conditions for decades.
Despite claims by Myanmar officials that there’s a plan in place for repatriating the Rohingya back home, there is no real timeline or movement on the logistics to do so — at least according to officials in Bangladesh. The two countries started talking about repatriation in October, finally signing an agreement in November even as Rohingya continued to flee across the border.
One official speaking to the Dhaka Tribune said no details have been agreed upon just yet in terms of when or how the Rohingya can be sent back. Indeed, hundreds of Rohingya villages have been burned down and reclaimed by the Myanmar government, so it remains unclear where the refugees will be placed. Those who fled previous crackdowns and were repatriated have been forced into living conditions that rights groups have described as “concentration camps.”
So far, Myanmar has come up with a repatriation plan for the 500 or so Hindus who have also fled the bloody crackdowns.
With no prospect of immediate return and numbers that will only grow in the refugee camps, the Rohingya are also facing food shortage as Bangladesh works with aid agencies to meet their needs. According to a study done by the U.N.’s food program, 90 percent of Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar have required emergency food assistance, with 80 percent relying on that assistance for survival.
The majority of these refugees had to walk six days carrying what they could, with many already facing hunger and in some cases, starvation. with authorities in Myanmar severely limiting humanitarian aid access to Rakhine state, where almost all of the one-time 1.1 million Rohingya used to live.