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Rohingya refugees: "We could simply become invisible"

08 Sep 2021

August 2021 marks four years since the 2017 campaign of targeted violence by the Myanmar military waged against the Rohingya in Rakhine State. The stateless Rohingya people have been subjected to discrimination and denied basic rights and adequate access to services, including healthcare. Approximately 900,000 refugees are now living in Bangladesh. 

Khin Maung,  a 26-year-old ethnic Rohingya, has been living as a refugee since 2017, when his village in Myanmar came under attack. He shares his concerns for around the invisibility of the Rohingya's plight. 

MSF staff wade through floodwaters at Camp 12 in Cox's Bazar, where thousands of persecuted Rohingya refugees are living in temporary shelters while displaced from their homes.

When we first arrived at our refugee camp—one of many set up in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh—I thought we would be back home in Myanmar after two or three months. Some of our neighbours were still there and my village was still untouched. Our camp was very close to the border between these two countries, and so going back was going to be easy.

That was four years ago. My house has since been long gone, burnt to ashes.

If someone told me to return now I would think they were mad—there is just no way. There is certainly no legal means to return, only illegal ways. We want a proper solution, a reasonable and a just one, because we are citizens of Myanmar. If we gave up our rights and decided to return, what would happen to our future?

The longer we stay in Bangladesh, the more I am afraid that the Rohingya issue will progressively slip from the international agenda until we simply become invisible.

Khin Maung
Rohingya refugee

Of course I do not mean that we do not want to go back home—we want to go back as soon as possible. No one wants to be a refugee. Sometimes I feel as if I am not human. I feel as if I am living deep in a forest with wild animals, having nothing to call my own—no education, no safety, not even freedom. But we want to return while preserving our rights and in the knowledge that we will be safe. For this process to succeed, the Bangladeshi authorities need to talk with us and involve us in discussions, much as they involve other parties and countries.

The longer we stay in Bangladesh, the more I am afraid that the Rohingya issue will progressively slip from the international agenda until we simply become invisible.

Khin Maung (26 years old) arrived to Cox’s Bazar in 2017 after leaving his hometown just across the border with Myanmar. His dream is to become a lawyer and to fight for the Rohingya cause in the international courts.

Here in the camps, our access to health care is very limited because medical facilities mostly just provide basic care. There is no available attention for more serious cases, while increasing restrictions supposedly linked to COVID-19 make it more and more difficult for us to seek options outside the camps. Patients requiring emergency surgery or advanced medical care sometimes face problems at the camps’ exit controls. It is the same for people suffering chronic diseases or mental health problems; sometimes they are not allowed to leave the camps on time and they miss their appointments or run out of medication.

There are few blood banks in the camps, and a lack of co-ordination between authorities and NGOs sometimes results in lives being lost. Members of the Rohingya Youth Association, which I set up to support my community, try to donate blood whenever it is needed. But that is far from enough. Just recently, we received an alert of a critical patient just 20 minutes before he passed away. We could not save him.

We understand, of course, that COVID-19 poses a serious health concern and, therefore, requires some movement restrictions. But there need to be exceptions, just as there are for citizens outside the camps.

Again, we sometimes feel as if we are not human beings living in dignity. Some families in the camps previously had very small but essential incomes from small businesses. They would perhaps earn between $20-30 per month, but all that is gone due to Covid-19-related restrictions. The restrictions have made people totally dependent on the food provided by humanitarian organisations but which is hardly enough to live on.

If we end up not being able to continue our education, we are going to lose an entire generation... what will happen to our children?

Khin Maung
Rohinyga refugee

My dream is to one day become a lawyer and defend our cause in the international courts. The government of Myanmar used the law to cut off our rights, so we need to be able to fight back with the help of the law. But our young people are not familiar with the words of the UN declaration of human rights—an international document adopted by the UN General Assembly that enshrines the rights and freedoms of all human beings—which says that we are all equal in front of the law. We are, however, not even given basic training in the camps to empower our young people and learn the basics about human rights. I know about some universities around the world that would give us the chance to join their courses, but the authorities have stopped this from happening.

If we end up not being able to continue our education, we are going to lose an entire generation. If we have to stay here for 10 years, what will happen to our children?

Despite these challenges, I hope not to lose my hope.

Khin Maung is a 26-year-old ethnic Rohingya, who has been living as a refugee since 2017, when his village in Myanmar came under attack from the army.

The 2017 campaign of targeted violence by the Myanmar military was not the first campaign targeting the Rohingya, but it was by far the largest. Following cycles of violence and persecution by the Myanmar authorities since the 1990s, approximately 900,000 refugees are now in Bangladesh and 155,000 in Malaysia. MSF’s continued presence in Bangladesh, Myanmar and Malaysia is driven by a commitment to provide the Rohingya community with adequate access to quality medical care and be a witness to their plight.