The World Must Act Immediately To End The Rohingya Crisis

“In the night I wake suddenly, because I see the killing and the people who were shot. I see those things again.”
Published on
November 1, 2017
Photo: Roger LeMoyne

“In the night I wake suddenly, because I see the killing and the people who were shot. I see those things again.”

They are words no 16-year-old should speak, but they are the words we heard from Hossan, a 16-year-old Rohingya refugee in Bangladesh.

Next week marks two months since the latest wave of horrific violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine State erupted.

Rohingya children are telling traumatic stories. Of murder. Of rape. Of villages burned to the ground. Of family members killed. Of lives uprooted and futures destroyed.

Since then, more than half a million Rohingya refugees have fled Myanmar and crossed the border into Bangladesh, bringing the total Rohingya population in Bangladesh to over one million.

Tens of thousands are living in overcrowded refugee camps and informal settlements where there is a high risk of disease outbreak.

Around one million Rohingya refugees are now thought to have fled into Bangladesh. Photo: Roger LeMoyne

In a span of less than two months, this has become one of the world’s largest humanitarian crises. Nearly 60 per cent of the refugees are children — and 21 per cent of those under five years of age are suffering from malnutrition.

Many have become separated from their families or fled on their own. Thousands have been traumatised by brutal violence. All have suffered tremendous loss.

Rohingya children are telling traumatic stories. Of murder. Of rape. Of villages burned to the ground. Of family members killed. Of lives uprooted and futures destroyed.

Some children draw pictures depicting the violence they witnessed in Myanmar — helicopters attacking villages and soldiers shooting boys as they play football in the fields. Pictures no child should ever draw. Memories that no child should ever be asked to bear.

Hundreds of thousands of people have been making their way along muddy roads and through rice paddies to reach safety. Those making the journey arrive desperate, exhausted, hungry, and dehydrated. Photo: Roger LeMoyne

This week a conference was held in Geneva to raise critical funding for the humanitarian crisis facing displaced Rohingya children and families in Myanmar and Bangladesh.

It was an opportunity for governments around the world to show their solidarity with Bangladesh, which has shown remarkable support to Rohingya refugees.

$620 million is urgently needed to sustain and scale up the large humanitarian effort already under way as part of the recently launched Humanitarian Response Plan.

Rohingya refugees and vulnerable host communities — an estimated 1.2 million people — are in urgent need of lifesaving assistance. The world must act before it is too late.

UNICEF has been distributing clean drinking water and supplies to Rohingya refugees. Nutrition, immunisation, and health teams are also working to attend to children and their families. Photo: Roger LeMoyne

Under the leadership of the Government of Bangladesh, UNICEF is working to provide Rohingya children with immediate help.

We have already provided water, sanitation and hygiene to 100,000 people, vaccinated 135,000 children against measles, mumps and polio, initiated a cholera immunisation campaign for 600,000 people and begun treating children for severe malnutrition.

But the needs are growing by the day and more must be done. First and foremost, this means meeting children’s most urgent necessities — including food, safe water, sanitation and vaccination — to protect them from disease.

They also need immediate access to basic services like education, psychosocial support, and protection from trafficking, exploitation and abuse.

This man rests with a child after crossing into Bangladesh from Myanmar. Refugees have often been travelling on foot for ten days or more, walking at night, and hiding in forests during the day. Photo: Roger LeMoyne

Bangladesh has kept its borders open, offering safety and shelter to fleeing families. The warm welcome and generosity shown by local communities towards the refugees serve as an inspiring example for the world. But Bangladesh cannot do it alone.

The rest of the world needs to step up.

UNICEF is also calling for urgent action in four key areas: international support and funding for humanitarian response plans; protection of Rohingya children and families, and immediate humanitarian access to all children affected by the violence; support for the safe, voluntary and dignified return of Rohingya refugees to Myanmar; and a long-term solution to the crisis.

It is a crisis stealing the childhoods of Rohingya children. We must not let it steal their futures at the same time, or the whole region will pay the price for many years to come.

Hasina Begum and her child have just crossed into Bangladesh from Myanmar. She is weeping for her 11-year-old son, her mother, and two brothers, who were all killed before they could flee from the violence in Myanmar. Photo: Roger LeMoyne

To support UNICEF’s work for children affected by disaster and upheaval, please donate to our greatest need campaign.