The Rohingya represented the largest group of Muslims living in Myanmar at the start of 2017, with the vast majority of more than one million residents in Rakhine State. Regarded as ‘stateless’ by the government within Myanmar and denied citizenship, the ethnic group had been forced to leave Myanmar in a number of displacements prior to 2017.
In August of that year, reports began to emerge of forces making their way through Rohingya villages in Rakhine State, burning homes, and attacking and killing civilians. Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya began their journey to the Bangladesh border, risking their lives to reach the safety of another country.
Now, more than a million Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh live in 34 camps close to the seaside village of Cox’s Bazar. The camps are overwhelmed with the huge influx of people, with an estimated average population of 100,000 people per square mile. About half of the refugees are children, with more women living in the camps than men. Most of the refugees live in shelters made of bamboo and plastic sheets - structures that are unbearably hot in the height of the summer and extremely vulnerable to the winds and rain of monsoon season.
The Rohingya are not allowed to work and cannot leave the camps without the permission of the Government. However, many have taken on volunteer roles within the camp to help improve conditions for themselves, their children, and their community.
Concern had been working in Bangladesh for 45 years when the first reports of the mass exodus from Rakhine State emerged in 2017 and it rapidly became that this was a major humanitarian crisis. In our initial response, we provided food rations, water and shelter to more than 100,000 newly arrived refugees.
Three years later, we continue to support these communities and work to ensure lifesaving nutrition support for children, pregnant, and breastfeeding women. Much of Concern’s work in Cox’s Bazaar is done by volunteers, made up of an almost equal number of the host population and Rohingya refugees. Host communities, including poor Bangladeshi families living in the area around the refugee camps, have also struggled with this crisis – with rising costs of living and loss of land traditionally used for farming.
To ensure that all communities are supported and alleviate tensions between the groups, Concern’s livelihood interventions have been expanded to include these populations.
"Bangladesh has done an amazing job support the Rohingya people at such a large scale but it comes as a cost to the host community, which also needs to be supported,” said Ms Macey.