For Rohingya Refugees, There’s No Return in Sight

Why They Remain Stuck in Bangladesh

A Rohingya refugee child at Unchiparang refugee camp, near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, January 2018 Tyrone Siu / Reuters

The Rohingya Muslims have faced persecution in Myanmar for decades. And yet no violence in their recent history has compared to that which the Myanmar military inflicted in August 2017. After militants from the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army attacked police and army posts in northwestern Rakhine State on August 25, the military responded by killing thousands of Rohingya civilians, raping hundreds of Rohingya women and girls, and burning entire villages to the ground. In the course of a little more than three months, more than 700,000 Rohingya were forced to flee for their lives to Bangladesh. Myanmar authorities claimed they had conducted a “clearance operation” to rid the country of militants. In reality, they were fulfilling a long-standing dream of Myanmar’s Buddhist nationalists: the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya Muslims. 

The refugees joined hundreds of thousands of Rohingya who were already in Bangladesh seeking refuge after previous attacks, bringing the total to 1.2 million. Today, more Rohingya live as refugees than remain in Myanmar. Bangladesh and humanitarian organizations are struggling to provide for the needs of refugees, while Myanmar refuses to take the steps necessary to ensure the safe and voluntary return of the Rohingya to their homes in Rakhine State. International attention to the plight of the Rohingya has waned, even as the Myanmar military continues to terrorize those who remain in Rakhine State. Many Rohingya in the camps in Bangladesh say that they fear they will soon be forgotten. 

China and Russia have thus far blocked UN Security Council action to hold the Myanmar military accountable for these atrocities, but the United States and other Security Council members are not doing enough to secure justice. The Rohingya will not be returning to Myanmar anytime soon, so for the foreseeable future the camps in Bangladesh will be their only home. The Bangladesh government should do everything in its power to make the camps more livable, while donors should provide sufficient aid to ease the burden on Bangladesh. 

Rohingya refugees crossing the Bangladesh-Myanmar border near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, November 2017 Hannah Mckay / Reuters


Rohingya refugees have fled to Bangladesh

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