Rohingya Refugees: The Anatomy of a Crisis

By Pat Melancon on June 21, 2018 | Print

Over the past several months, one of the largest refugee crises in history has emerged among the Rohingya peoples from the country of Myanmar. More than 600,000 have fled their homeland to find refuge in Bangladesh. It is a very complicated situation and with no simple answers. Here’s a brief look at the origin of the problem and reality of this humanitarian disaster.

What is the cause of the refugee crisis?

The cause of the Rohingya migration is both political and religious. The Rohingya do not have an official national identity in Burma and are considered illegal Bangladeshi immigrants. Religious persecution exists because most of the Rohingya are Muslims and not Buddhists, like the majority of the Burmese.

What is life like for these refugees?

Most of the Rohingya refugees are in Bangladesh because of armed conflict that resulted in the loss of their homes and the death of many of the male family members. Whole families fled on foot during these armed conflicts with only the clothes they were wearing and a few other items.  All to whom I spoke had horrific stories of hiding in various locations until the rampages ended and then fled toward the Bangladesh border.

What does a normal day look like for these refugees?

Most of the refugees sleep on hardened mud. The shelters where they live are covered with black plastic, so the heat of the day continues into the night.  Most will be awakened by someone passing by their shelter on the way to get food to cook, water to drink, or to go to a latrine. The smell of the camp is putrid, with open sewage flowing next to the edges of most of the shelters.  The kids will awaken to more scabies, lice, and no sanitation. They will eat what is placed before them, try to occupy themselves until the next meal, and many will have diarrhea due to unclean food, worms, or unclean water. Most will have no school, little clothing, and have lost a parent in the carnage. The adults have no work, no sense of fulfillment, no individual identity, no dignity, and are hoping just to make it through another day. ALL want to go home and live in peace. Rumors of possible return to their homes are rampant, and most fade into more despair.