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Press Release

Report reveals dire needs of Rohingya refugees

Last updated 
  • Half of pregnant women have not received medical care; a third of families forced to defecate in the open
  • Three most urgent needs are money, household goods and food
  • Report from the International Rescue Committee and Relief International also highlights harmful practices in supporting survivors of sexual violence

A major report, published this week by the International Rescue Committee in partnership with Relief International, has highlighted the desperate situation faced by Rohingya refugees fleeing violence in Myanmar.

Only the second needs assessment of the Rohingya refugee crisis to be completed, it reveals the scale of the crisis faced by the estimated half a million people arriving in Bangladesh, fleeing conflict in Rakhine State. The IRC warns of as many as 200,000 further arrivals in coming weeks as the conflict in Rakhine continues.

Over three-quarters of the surveyed population lack food, with the majority eating fewer meals a day or switching their diet to cheaper foods.

The report also reveals the extent to which families in Bangladesh are being forced to live in conditions with the makings of a major health epidemic, with nearly a third being forced to defecate in the open and the vast majority [95%] drinking untreated water raising the risk of disease.

“Poor hygiene and the absence of safe, clean water is unfortunately the perfect storm for a cholera outbreak - the horrors of which we see today in places like Yemen. Matched with an overwhelmed and inadequate health response, we risk a health crisis of enormous proportions especially as displacement into Cox’s Bazaar continues daily,” said Cat Mahony, IRC’s emergency response leader in Bangladesh.

Lack of money for housing and food among other things, emerged at the greatest need [73%] for families. This was followed by lack of household goods [61%], such as cooking equipment, blankets and floor mats, and food [52%].  

The figures show that women and girls are the largest group in the camps, and a striking 87% of families have at least one member with an identified vulnerability, be it the elderly [49%], pregnant [18%], disabled [12%] or wounded [17%]. Nearly half of pregnant women have not received medical care and nearly two-thirds did not know where to seek help.

The IRC’s all-female assessment team also observed harmful practices in supporting survivors of gender-based violence (GBV), including men working in women’s safe spaces and sign posts which identify the location of confidential services and men revealing survivor identities to the community. This lack of discretion and the participation of men in these services could have life-threatening implications for women and girls.

“Far from meeting international standards, the GBV support in place poses a direct risk to women and girls,” warned Mahony. “Women and girls were already at great risk of sexual violence at home in Rakhine. Now displaced in Cox’s Bazaar and even more vulnerable, they risk being doubly victimized by being publicly identified or even retaliated against for speaking out.”

Reports of sexual violence against women in the Rohingya population are rife. Both those forced to flee to Bangladesh and those trapped in northern Myanmar are cut off from essential services and lifesaving aid. The IRC is deeply alarmed by reports of girls in Rohingya camps being raped or abused when going to the toilet or collecting firewood, and being pulled out of school to marry young. Girls in the Rohingya camps told the IRC: “It doesn’t feel safe going to the toilet at night, something might happen because there is no electricity.”

"The levels of trauma that we are seeing here are severe, some of the highest that the International Rescue Committee has ever seen,” noted Sanna Johnson, regional director for the IRC. "The women that we have spoken to have reported seeing their families, their children, murdered before their eyes, before fleeing on foot across the border. It's a truly shocking situation, which is why the priority for us has to be ensuring the appropriate support is put in place immediately."

In Cox’s Bazaar, the IRC is launching an emergency response focusing on life-saving health assistance, the treatment of severe acute malnutrition and child protection, in collaboration with national and international partners. The IRC’s approach to the prevention of GBV includes the grouping of different services under one roof to ensure women and girls are not stigmatized by attending and seeking help.

In Myanmar, the IRC is gradually resuming critical health and protection programmes in both Muslim camps and Rakhine villages, but humanitarian access remains restricted for humanitarian groups and thousands remain out of reach of life-saving aid, especially in northern Rakhine state.

"In a crisis of such unprecedented scale, it is vital we work together to reach vulnerable people in need immediately,” added Johnson. “The IRC is ready to scale up in both Cox’s Bazaar and Rakhine state to save lives today, and prevent a further deterioration in this conflict. At its height, 20,000 were crossing the border every day – a rate that has not been seen since Rwanda. We need the full support of the international community to respond to the world’s most urgent refugee crisis.”

Read the full report here

About the IRC

The International Rescue Committee responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises, helping to restore health, safety, education, economic wellbeing, and power to people devastated by conflict and disaster. Founded in 1933 at the call of Albert Einstein, the IRC is at work in over 40 countries and 29 U.S. cities helping people to survive, reclaim control of their future and strengthen their communities. Learn more at www.rescue-uk.org and follow the IRC on Twitter & Facebook.