Over the past few months, following discriminatory policies put in place by government forces, hundreds of thousands of Rohingya people have fled from persecution in Myanmar, with many seeking refuge in neighboring Bangladesh.
Dubbed "Rohingya Emergency" by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the crisis has taken a serious toll on the lives of millions, increasing at a staggering rate since August 2017.
In partnership with the UN Refugee Agency, StepFeed flew out to Bangladesh to document the tragic crisis and the horrific living conditions of those seeking refuge in the Kutupalong refugee camp located in Cox's Bazar.
Throughout our visit, we spoke to numerous refugees as well as UNHCR field workers and here are 8 important facts you need to know:
1. The crisis actually dates back to the 1970s
Since the late 1970s, discriminatory policies put in place by Myanmar’s government have forced hundreds of thousands of Muslim Rohingya to flee their homes in the predominantly Buddhist country.
In 1978, about 200,000 refugees crossed the borders into Bangladesh. Bangladeshis of all religions including Buddhists, Christians, Muslims, and Hindus welcomed Rohingya refugees at the time.
They had welcomed the refugees by cooking for them and also put an end to all celebrations at the time. Since then, Rohingya Muslims have not had a break.
The latest violence in Myanmar's northwestern Rakhine state began in August 2017, when a Rohingya insurgent group wielding sticks, knives and homemade bombs carried out coordinated attacks on more than 25 Myanmar police stations and an army base.
The most recent count estimates the number of Rohingya seeking refuge in Bangladesh to be 1 million. In addition, many have taken to the sea to reach Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand.
2. In 1992, 33,000 Rohingya were officially registered as refugees
In 1991-1992, Rohingya Muslims were subjected to extrajudicial executions, rape, religious prosecution, and torture by Myanmar military forces.
Following their persecution, thousands fled the violence over the border to Bangladesh. By March 1992, more than 250,000 Rohingya Muslims were living in refugee camps in Cox's Bazar, according to Human Rights Watch.
Mohammed Abu Asaker, the Senior Communications Officer at UNHCR, told StepFeed that 33,000 Rohingya were officially registered in 1992.
At the time, with the assistance of UNHCR and other non-governmental relief agencies, the Bangladeshi government sheltered the refugees in 19 camps across Cox's Bazar.
That same year, Bangladesh and Myanmar signed a "Rohingya repatriation agreement", which saw 236,000 Rohingya return to Myanmar. Bangladesh also stopped registering new refugees, according to The New York Times.
In response to the growing crisis, another repatriation deal was finalized in recent months. It has received condemnation globally for not taking the refugees' rights into consideration.
"This repatriation process should not proceed until the safety of the Rohingya [can be] ensured," said Tengku Emma Zuriana, Malaysia's ambassador for the European Rohingya Council (ERC), according to Al Jazeera.
"I was born here"
In one of the oldest zones of the Kutupalong refugee camp that dates back to 1992, StepFeed met Kafayet Ullah, a 20-year-old boy who was born in the refugee camp.
"I was born here. My parents came from Myanmar in 1992," Ullah told StepFeed. His parents fled from persecution in 1992, and have not returned ever since.
Ullah speaks a moderate amount of English, a language he learned at one of the schools inside the camp. He expressed disappointment in the fact that the level of education does not extend beyond Grade 8.
"Higher level education is not allowed inside the camp," Ullah added.
When asked about what he does for fun, Ullah began talking about his passion for football.
"I love football ... and I am the goalkeeper," he said.
His friends joined the conversation, nodding in agreement. One of them added that football is pretty popular with the guys residing in the camp.
3. Rohingya are stateless minority
Rohingya people are a Muslim minority in predominantly-Buddhist Myanmar, also known as Burma. They are concentrated in the western coastal Rakhine state, which is adjacent to Bangladesh.
According to the United Nations, the Rohingya people - estimated at about 1.1 million - are considered to be one of the most persecuted groups in the world.
Neither Bangladesh nor Myanmar recognizes them as citizens. They were refugees before even having to cross borders.
Within Myanmar, even the term Rohingya is impermissible to use and officials refer to the group as "Bengalis" as they continue to insist that they are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, even though most of them have lived in the country for generations.
The Rohingya are effectively the largest stateless population in the world.
4. Rohingya people don't know their birthdays
Being stateless citizens, the Rohingya people do not have IDs, let alone birth certificates. A massive portion of the refugees do not know their birth date - and age estimations are heavily based on biology.
Abu Asaker met one girl at the Kutupalong camp who claimed she was 16-years-old when asked about her age.
Asking for more details, she revealed that that number is based on an estimation following her first menstrual period. Apparently, the average age for girls to begin their menstrual cycle is 12-years-old in the area.
The girl has been counting the years since to have a hard figure to present when asked about her age.
StepFeed got the chance to meet Abdul Hannan, a 10-year-old boy, at the Kutapalong refugee camp where he has been living for the past 3 months. He walks around the camp wearing a name tag with an ID number and has 10 siblings.
5. Family life: 5,600 families are headed by children; 34,000 by single moms
According to the UNHCR, more than 620,000 children, women, and men have been forced to flee their homes in search of safety.
Prior to the influx of refugees - following the genocide in August 2017 - there were an estimated 307,500 Rohingya refugees. That number doubled over the course of a few months.
Children make up 54 percent of that population; women 52 percent.
According to Abu Asaker, 5,600 families are headed by children who lost their parents prior to fleeing Myanmar; 34,000 families are headed by single mothers.
StepFeed met Salama, a single mother in the camp who wanted to share her story with the world. Salama lost her husband to an illness and was forced to flee Myanmar on foot with her 3 children.
During their 15-day-long journey, Salama fell down, broke her hip and has been unable not fully recover since.
"Burma, for me, is a bitter place," Salama said, before going on to say that she would never go back.
She prays that their situation won't last this way forever and hopes that one day she will have the chance to send her children to school and get the much-needed treatment for her hip, guaranteeing full recovery.
A number of children, regardless of their age, walk around the Kutupalong refugee camp, carrying their siblings over their arms or shoulders.
Some are as young as six years old.
Nearly 17,000 children are suffering from severe acute malnutrition. UNICEF, alongside partners, have treated more than 4,400 children under the age of 5.
"Based on the screening we have done, we estimate that as many as 6 percent of newly-arrived children are [severe acute malnutrition] cases in some spontaneous settlements," said Monira Parveen, UNICEF's Nutrition Officer, in a statement.
6. "I witnessed a number of women get raped in front of my eyes"
StepFeed met an 18-year-old woman who lost her husband and child before her journey to Bangladesh began.
Hameeda has been in the camp for 4 months now after being forced out of Myanmar following clashes with the military.
At the time, Hameeda and her family were chased out of their villages by military forces. Their houses were burned down and pathways back into their homes were completely blocked.
They began running into the jungles to make it to the borders into Bangladesh, but Hameeda lost her husband to gunshots fired by the military. Her husband died on the spot.
Hameeda kept moving until she came across one incident that brought her movement to a halt. During her journey, the 18-year-old witnessed military forces rape a number of women in front of her eyes, Hameeda told StepFeed.
She was hiding behind a surface and did not dare move a muscle in an effort to avoid ambushing the military. She was eventually able to flee.
Hameeda lost her daughter due to illness and poor hospitalization in Myanmar ... and that's when her journey to Bangladesh - with her sister - began.
7. Diphtheria outbreak in Kutupalong and other camps
Recent data from the WHO's Early Warning Alert and Response System (EWARS) and Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) revealed that there were 722 probable diphtheria cases, including 9 deaths, in the camps and makeshift settlements hosting the Rohingya refugees between November 12 and December 10.
Diphtheria is a serious bacterial respiratory infection affecting the mucous membranes of the throat and nose, causing difficulty breathing, heart failure, paralysis and in some cases death.
Earlier this month, UNICEF, alongside the government of Bangladesh, the World Health Organization, and the Vaccine Alliance, launched a vaccination campaign to combat diphtheria among children aged 6 weeks to 6 years across 12 camps near the Myanmar border.
“We are moving quickly to control this diphtheria outbreak before it spins out of control. The vaccines will help protect every Rohingya child in these temporary settlements from falling prey to the deadly disease. Beyond vaccinations, we are helping health workers to clinically manage suspected cases, trace their contacts, and ensure sufficient supplies of medicines," said Dr. Navaratnasamy Paranietharan, WHO Representative to Bangladesh, in a statement.
8. Kutupalong is the largest Rohingya refugee camp
The Kutupalong refugee camp is located in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, and mostly inhabited by Rohingya Muslims who fled from religious persecution in neighboring Myanmar.
The refugee camp is one of two government-run refugee camps in Cox's Bazar, the other being the Nayapara refugee camp.
In September 2017, the UNHCR estimated that the combined population of the two refugee camps had increased to over 838,000.
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