Dubbed “boat people” by the global media for their flight to many countries in rickety boats, the Rohingya people have a storied history as a Sunni Muslim minority group based in western Myanmar. Their problem exists, ultimately, to the lack of international infrastructure needed to ensure basic human rights ensured on a global level are honored.
To put it simply – the government considered them Bangladeshi without ensuring that Bangladesh would extend citizenship to these people. This resulted in a group with limited recourse against both civilian and military malfeasance as evidenced by numerous military campaigns targeting villages throughout the region, as exemplified by what has been claimed by many to be acts of ethnic cleansing conducted in 2017 by Myanmar’s military.(1)
Government supported persecution alongside endemic poverty due to lack of access to work and education cumulated in the largest refugee crisis to hit the region in the 21st century. Now – with winter once again making itself felt in the region – it is time to take stock on the situation faced by these refugees situated in Bangladeshi camps.
State of Camps
A fundamental problem with establishing and running refugee camps lies in making certain that there is enough housing and supplies for the future residents. Sadly, this crisis grew much faster than planners anticipated. The result is that the largest camps, situated near Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, became swiftly overfilled. Before long more than 30 unregistered camps were established in the surrounding countryside.(2)
Too many people have created extraordinary strain on the resources available in nearly every regard: water, food, medical care, psychological support, and education.
Too high of a population creates many significant issues regarding basic health and social services, including:
- Economic Opportunities (Training, Job Placement)
- Medical Care (Hospitals, Regular Health Screenings, Medication)
- Education (All Levels)
- Basic Sanitation (Latrines, Drinking Water, Food)
- Security (Law Enforcement)
One of the greatest challenges in any community is maintaining an active workforce capable of generating resources that can support both dependent youth and the aged. With refugees this problem is often compounded by a large presence of children, injured/ill individuals, and the elderly – mostly traveling without the tools needed to continue practicing their professionals within the ad hoc camps. This pattern has repeated itself with 55% of the total refugee population being under the age of 18.(3) Making things even more difficult, from a demographics standpoint, 16% of the families were identified to be single parent.
This demographic situation would make any normal community hard pressed to maintain order, let alone economic and social growth. Factoring in the limited advanced skill sets of the Rohingya people (due to limited access to advanced education) and the already strained economic resources of the host nation, then it can be argued that the community is not capable of true self-sufficiency without a long-term infusion of outside capital (both human and fiscal) with the goal of building a functioning community from the ground-up.
Bangladesh’s economy has grown in fits and spurts throughout most of its history – a factor that makes ensuring that there is ample funding sufficient to maintaining a large refugee population highly dependent on foreign donations. Sadly – even when fully funded it is essential for the local economic environment to be resilient enough to incorporate the newcomers without depressing quality of life for permanent residents.
That delicate balance does not exist in this situation. The situation has created a sever drain on the Bangladeshi economy, with the government expending approximately $15.24 million per year(4) during a time in which the GDP for the country stands at only $1,700.
This situation has put added pressure on the government to end the refugee situation – putting pressure on the Bangladeshi government to arrange their reparation to Myanmar without resolving the underlying condition that led to the crisis to begin with.
Bangladesh has three primary seasons, pre-monsoon from March to May, monsoon from June to October, and a cool dry winter season from November through February. For the refugees this means that they have just come off the monsoon season and are in the midst of the coldest time of the year.
The 2018 monsoon season was moderately heavy with numerous incidents of flooding and property damage.(5) In particular, these months saw numerous issues with access to latrines, clean water, and general mobility throughout the camp.
This leads to a contradiction in terms – the refugees will be experiencing pleasant temperatures alongside potentially damaged shelters, poor health situations caused by disruptions in basic sanitation systems, and little in the way of economic growth due to commerce being disrupted for significant stretches just months prior.
The general state the Rohingya refugees find themselves during Winter 2018-2019 is approaching the same as the average conditions faced by the community over the last couple of generations. In other words, the conditions are quite poor with little indicators of future progress in resolving the underlying conditions that resulted in the problem to begin with.
Limited fiscal resources have hampered economic growth, with no significant progress being made to resolve the statelessness that has deprived the community of the security it needs to thrive in a secure manner in Myanmar.
Long term, the situation will require strong outside intervention in order to remove multiple institutional challenges for finding a solution to the problem. Many nations are already applying economic and diplomatic sanctions against Myanmar(6) (7), making it an inevitability that a change will either come from government officials backing down from pressure or the general population rising up against worsening economic conditions and demanding a swift resolution of this issue. The only question that remains is whether or not the people that fled these camps will ever feel secure enough to return to their home villages once the dust settles.