Bangladesh: Rohingya Refugee Crisis Escalates

In August 2017, Myanmar’s military launched widespread and deadly attacks on the Rohingya ethnic minority living in Rahkine state.

An estimated 288 villages were burned to the ground while the military committed mass atrocities, including the systematic murder and rape of entire Rohingya communities.

The ongoing violence has caused more than 800,000 Rohingya to flee across the border into Bangladesh, where many are now residing in squalid refugee camps with little access to food, water or medical care.

In Bangladesh, Doctors of the World has partnered with Bangladeshi NGO Gonoshasthaya Kendra (GK) to assess and respond to the needs of the Rohingyas living in Bangladesh’s refugee camps. We are also supporting the Bangladeshi government’s efforts to provide medical care to the refugees, including primary and mental healthcare for those who have witnessed or experienced extreme violence. Along with our national partners, Doctors of the World has set up medical clinics in the camps and is currently serving around 700 patients a day.

Rohingya children in a Bangladesh refugee camp.

It is likely that the needs of the Rohingya refugees will continue to grow. Almost 60% of the refugees are children, many of whom have become separated from their families or possibly orphaned. As many as 14,000 children in the camps are suffering from severe malnutrition, and more than 18,000 of the newly arrived women are pregnant.

UN officials have begun to describe the crisis as ethnic cleansing. Myanmar’s government has banned international access to Rahkine state, making it difficult for humanitarian organizations to determine how many Rohingya have been killed by Myanmar’s military. While some human rights investigators estimate 1,000 Rohingya have been killed, the number could rise as high as 5,000.

“These people have been traumatized, have lived through unspeakable horrors and are now living in appalling conditions,” – Dr. Françoise Sivignon, President of Médecins du Monde France.

Dr. Françoise Sivignon speaks with a Rohingya family in Bangladesh.

On returning from Bangladesh, Dr. Françoise Sivignon, President of Médecins du Monde, noted that “The scale of this humanitarian crisis in Rahkine state and southern Bangladesh is shocking due to the extreme violence experienced by the Rohingya. These people have been traumatized, have lived through unspeakable horrors and are now living in appalling conditions.”

Many Rohingya women and children are too traumatized to talk and try to hide their injuries or infections. To reach the most vulnerable women and children, our community health workers (most of whom are women) are working on outreach activities to seek out those most in need of assistance in order to connect them to the health services they so desperately need. 

Beyond our current emergency response to the Rohingya crisis, Doctors of the World has been active in Myanmar since 1991, working with at risk communities such as drug users in Kachin state and sex workers in Yangon.

Our work has focused on the prevention of diseases such as HIV, Hepatitis and Tuberculosis. In 2016, we provided antiretroviral treatment for 2,500 HIV positive patients and methadone for 1,300 drug users. We also conduct free disease screenings and prevention workshops for more than 12,500 people.

We are actively monitoring the emergency situation in Myanmar and Bangladesh and will provide additional updates as they become available. To support our current emergency response to the Rohingya refugee crisis, as well as our other refugee work around the world, you can donate here.