Nearly 1 million Rohingya refugees are facing precarious conditions in Bangladesh - Doctors of the World

Nearly 1 million Rohingya refugees are facing precarious conditions in Bangladesh


Life for Rohingya Refugees in Bangladesh


In August 2017, a violent military crackdown against the Rohingya population in Myanmar led many to flee the country in search of safety. In Myanmar, the Rohingya – an ethnic, religious, and linguistic minority – have faced discrimination for over 40 years. In 2017, the violence escalated into genocide, with security forces killing thousands and burning down over 400 villages. The majority, nearly 1 million Rohingya, found refuge in Bangladesh’s Cox Bazar district and on the island of Bhasan Char.

While the Rohingya refugees have escaped persecution from the Myanmar forces, life is difficult in the refugee camps in Cox Bazar and Bhasan Char. With 773,000 Rohingya located in Cox Bazar, and more than 30,000 in Bhasan Char, the scale of the influx of refugees has put a serious strain on services. The situation is getting more dire by the year due to the protracted nature of the humanitarian crisis and decreasing funding.

Rohingya’s refugees are currently the world’s largest stateless population in the world, and most of them are still without formal refugee status. In Bangladesh, many are unable to access education or are able to earn an income, leaving them vulnerable to exploitation and serious protection risks. Living in refugee camps, they depend entirely on humanitarian aid. 

Tensions have increased within the camps but also with host communities to such an extent that, since 2019, Bangladesh has erected fences around the camps. Now the Rohingya are no longer allowed to own cell phones or access the internet. At the end of December 2021, many refugees were relocated to a submersible island, the island of Bhasan Char. To date, international NGOs have little information on the real living conditions of the Rohingyas in this location.


Bangladesh is recognized as one of the most disaster-prone countries in the world: the climate crisis has further exacerbated the risk of natural hazards like cyclones, floods, landslides and earthquakes. Bangladesh has done a lot to mitigate the risk of climate disaster through the development of emergency preparedness mechanisms that have already saved countless lives during major disasters. Nonetheless, the frequency, severity and unpredictability of these disasters will only continue to increase as global warming, environmental degradation and population growth continue to escalate. This leaves the Rohingya population in the country at extreme risk and humanitarian needs are only going to continue to grow. 

Doctors of the World Action for Rohingya Refugees 


Shortly after the massive influx of Rohingya into Bangladesh in September 2017, Doctors of the World (DotW) began medical treatment in camps. Our efforts have focused on strengthening the capacities of local associations with the aim of improving access to mental health and psychosocial care services and to better support victims of gender-based violence. We have provided training to the staff of numerous associations working in Cox’s Bazar. 

Since 2018, when the emergency response took hold, our support has shifted to outreach to people who need medical care but cannot get to clinics to help them access healthcare. We have also been working on awareness raising activities for disease prevention and health maintenance / promotion in the community, and nurturing community support mechanisms. DotW works with Rohingya volunteers so that they educate and empower their peers themselves.


With many Rohingya struggling with trauma from their experience in Myanmar and many struggling with gender-based violence, our humanitarian mission has focused heavily on creating safe spaces that can provide healthcare as well as psychosocial support. Currently, four Community Resource Centers (in the camps and for the host populations) have been built: they constitute spaces of confidentiality and work to build trust and support people with specialized healthcare and mental health support. 

Furthermore, during Covid-19 epidemic, DotW and its partners put in place responses to the humanitarian emergency in Bangladesh, by organizing massive information and awareness campaigns  for host populations.

Through our work at Doctors of the World we have:

  • Supported 56 community groups in terms of access to health and management of gender-based violence and people requiring mental health and psychosocial support,
  • Accompanied 202 victims of gender-based violence with mental health and psychosocial support,
  • Informed and educated 10,064 people about gender-based violence, sexual and reproductive health, and mental and psychosocial health.

Nonetheless, there are still larger, more complex issues that are preventing Rohingya people from settling. Many cannot see clear prospects in their future and are spending their days in limbo, still longing to return home. Without a clear documentation status the Rohingya population is unable to leave the camps, receives education or finds work. 




Arnaud Finistre