How aid restrictions impact Rohingyas

Limited humanitarian access continues to have an adverse effect on the lives of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees in southeastern Bangladesh. Aid workers and activists say Rohingya communities fear that what little support they have might disappear as a result of threats made by the Bangladeshi government to further limit humanitarian activities. “When we hear the humanitarians might leave I feel really bad. Whatever [medical] treatment and support we get, we wouldn’t get it anymore,” said Munrul Indrus, a Rohingya employee of an international humanitarian organization in the Cox’s Bazar area, who declined to give his real name. “At least now we have a latrine and running water and some [medical] treatment – none of those would be there anymore,” he told IRIN.

According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), there are more than 200,000 Rohingyas in Bangladesh, of whom only 30,000 are documented and living in two government camps assisted by the agency, both within 2km of Myanmar. The vast majority live in informal settlements or towns and cities with scant or no assistance. UNHCR is only allowed to assist those who registered before 1992, when the process was discontinued by the government, leaving most Rohingya – an ethnic, linguistic and religious minority who fled en masse from neighbouring Myanmar decades ago – undocumented. Under Myanmar law, the Rohingya are considered stateless. This leaves the hundreds of thousands who arrived subsequently in Bangladesh without access to documentation or registration, and living in what Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) describes as “deplorable conditions,” in their latest activity report.

Violence against women a major concern
“When one of the local men broke into my house and started to rape me, all of my neighbours knew it, but they didn’t do anything because they know there is no justice system for refugees,” said Binara Salil (not her real name), 38, a Rohingya mother of three who lives in a UNHCR-administered camp.
She reported the rape to the camp administration and the UNHCR immediately afterwards, but it was two to three months before a security guard was stationed temporarily at her home, and the perpetrator was never punished. Experts also point to growing violence against the Rohingyas, stressing the need for access to justice.
The environment around some of the Rohingya settlements has become more aggressive recently, “with fights breaking out and an increase in violence against women,” Melanie Teff, a senior advocate for Refugees International, told IRIN from London. “Without registration or any legal status in Bangladesh, refugees who fall victim to such violence have no legal recourse,” she said.

Desperate situations call for desperate measures
Without food aid, unregistered people are forced into illegal activities to survive.
“We have latrines and water, but people also need housing and food. As we don’t have it, we have to go find work to pay for it,” said Indrus. In January 2013, the UNHCR released a statement saying that “people [living outside the official camp] have found informal ways to survive without government or UNHCR support.”
But such coping methods can also put people in danger of abuse and arrest. “Whenever we leave our homes to seek work, there are now two check posts even before we reach the first town. If we get caught, the police ask us for money or send us to jail,” said Indrus.
In Bangladesh, one of the most densely populated countries in the world, “strong competition over work, living space and resources is inevitable at a local level [and] the stateless Rohingya are left highly vulnerable,” MSF reported in 2010.

(Source / 25.11.2013)

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