Six Years After Their Darkest Hour, the Rohingya Have Been Abandoned


Raïss Tinmaung | Ottawa Citizen - TRANSCEND Media Service

Rohingya refugees gather for a rally marking the sixth anniversary of genocide day, in Ukhia, Bangladesh, on Aug. 25, 2023, demanding their secured and dignified return to Myanmar. Photo by TANBIR MIRAJ /AFP via Getty Images

What is lacking is the international community’s attention to the crisis and its genuine willingness to help.

25 Aug 2023 – Aug. 25 marks the sixth anniversary of the last massacre of the Rohingya in Myanmar. Nearly half of their villages were exterminated and 800,000 people fled to refugee camps in Bangladesh. Today, the Rohingya still remain stranded in the refugee camps and the apartheid villages. They have been abandoned by the international community as other issues and conflicts have taken priority.

The Rohingya are an ethnic minority from northwestern Myanmar. Predominantly Muslims, they are subject to constant discrimination in their Buddhist-majority country. Numerous state-driven campaigns of terror and scorched earth have taken place in efforts to drive the Rohingya out of Myanmar. Notable ones include the massacres of 1978, 1991, 2012 and 2017, each one with horrific accounts of burnings, killings, and rapes. In 2019, the International Court of Justice began proceedings on Myanmar, accused of genocide, while the International Criminal Court is still collecting evidence to begin prosecutions against Myanmar’s leadership accused of crimes against humanity.

While the international media brought some attention to the matter back in 2017 and 2018, it has since almost lost interest in the Rohingya crisis. A simple Google search of Rohingya under the news tab yields 2,500 results in 0.22 seconds. On the contrary, a Google search for Ukraine under the News tab yields 71.2 million results in 0.44 seconds. The difference in numbers speak volumes of the sheer lack of attention to the Rohingya issue.

For the nearly one million Rohingya living in ultra-poverty in refugee camps, rations were cut from $12 per person to $10 per person to eventually $8 per person as of June 2023. With 27 cents a day, it becomes difficult to even have a bowl of rice and lentils once a day, let alone anything else that constitutes essential nutrients, especially needed for young developing children.

For the Rohingya that survived the massacres and remained in Myanmar, 153,000 of them live in internally displaced camps and 447,000 in villages with severe restrictions of movement, making it nearly impossible to earn a living, go to school, or be seen by a doctor. People in the camps live in severely overcrowded conditions and suffer from high rates of malnutrition, waterborne illnesses, and child and maternal deaths. It is common for children to die from recurring outbreaks of acute diarrhea.

The UN’s Independent Fact Finding Mission had described the situation of Rohingya in Myanmar as “deliberately inflicted conditions of life calculated to bring about the physical destruction of Rohingya” or “measures of slow death… living under the threat of genocide” The conditions still prevail today and many try to escape through human traffickers that promise to take them to Malaysia or Indonesia in exchange of their life savings — only to desert them in the Andaman Sea where they eventually perish.

The international community has turned a blind eye to resolving the Rohingya crisis. None of the regional powers in ASEAN has proposed to bring back the Rohingya to their original homelands with full rights, a demand almost unanimously made by the refugees themselves. China has attempted to facilitate the repatriation of Rohingya under terms that appease China’s own relationships with Myanmar. At the same time, India’s response to the crisis has been through detention and deportation of the Rohingya that have taken refuge on Indian soil. None of the western powers has even proposed a repatriation plan.

The humanitarian response to the Rohingya crisis is also on a decline, which is evident from the severe ration cuts in the refugee camps. The World Food Program’s country brief (Bangladesh) from April 2023 highlighted a $56-million funding shortfall. This can be starkly contrasted with the global humanitarian response to the crisis in Ukraine: nearly $4 billion by the U.S. government alone, €670 million in EU civil protection mechanisms from the European Union and hundreds of millions, if not billions, in bilateral aid from countries all over the world.

Canada initially took leadership on the Rohingya issue by allocating $300 million for international development assistance from 2018 to 2021, as recommended by its Special Envoy to Myanmar. In 2021, Canada renewed the funding by committing another $288.3 million from 2021 to 2024 to support the Rohingya, as well as to advance peace building and democratic rule in Myanmar. Canada can do more to help bridge the funding shortage that has drastically reduced rations in refugee camps to 27 cents a day. In the least, it can leverage its platform on the international stage to influence other donors to increase their contributions.

Canada has also made a commitment to pursue accountability for crimes committed by Myanmar’s ruling junta in its strategy statements. It has expressed its intent to intervene in the proceedings against Myanmar at the International Court of Justice, which it has yet to fulfill.

Aug. 25 is another anniversary of the last massacre of the Rohingya. One anniversary after another passes, and the lives of the Rohingya in the refugee camps of Bangladesh and the segregated villages in Myanmar continue as before, stateless and hopeless. What is lacking is the international community’s attention to the crisis and its genuine willingness to help.


Raiss Tinmaung is a Rohingya from Akyab (Sittwe) living in Ottawa.

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