APHRThe Rohingya are an ethnic Muslim minority group who have lived in Myanmar for centuries. The Rohingya follow Islam and have their own language and culture. In 2017, there were one million of the Rohingya population living in Myanmar. However, the government considered them illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and refused to recognize the Rohingya as citizens. The government targeted the Rohingya, leaving thousands fleeing as a result of discriminatory violence and abuse. However, ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) works to help the Rohingya.

The Targeting of the Rohingya

The government officially forced the Rohingya out of Myanmar on August 25, 2017, by burning Rohingya villages and attacking and killing the population. Hundreds of thousands had to flee by sea or foot. A minimum of 6,700 Rohingya, including at least 730 children under 5, died in the month after the conflict occurred. Furthermore, at least 288 villages burned down in northern Rakhine State.

In January 2020, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ordered Myanmar to protect the Rohingya from genocidal attacks. The country’s leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, denied all allegations of genocide or ethnic cleansing.

The ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights

The ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) is a network of parliamentarians promoting democracy and advocating for human rights in Southeast Asia. Founded in June 2013, the APHR’s mission is to create a safe place where all people can live without fear of violence and discrimination. Specifically, the APHR focuses on preventing democratic and human rights violations.

The APHR is an organization consisting of public figures in positions of power working with government officials and upholding political freedom. The APHR targets public figures and organizations based on specific strengths and the ability to persuade. The organization emphasizes the importance of international relations and environmental sustainability. Founding members include Charles Chong from Singapore, Son Chhay from Cambodia and Walden Bello from the Philippines.

The APHR works to implement democracy and fundamental freedoms, including freedom of religion or belief programs. The organization brings officials together through workshops, forums and conferences while working with the United Nations, parliaments, international governments, communities, shareholders and grassroots actors.

The APHR in Myanmar

The APHR is currently focused on assessing regional response to the Rohingya crisis in the Rakhine State in Myanmar and holding the Myanmar military, known as the Tatmadaw, accountable for the recent attack on Armed Forces Day. Tens of thousands of people protested in support of democracy in Myanmar and security forces responded by killing 114 people, including children, on March 27, 2021. The APHR called upon the international community to take action against these atrocities.

The APHR members spoke to refugees to gather information on the human rights violations being experienced by the Rohingya in Myanmar as well as the situation in Bangladesh that led them to flock to Myanmar. The APHR requests that Myanmar’s government allow U.N. agencies and others looking to provide humanitarian assistance access to the northern Rakhine State. Journalists should be allowed to investigate and report accurately on the abuses happening, and “impartial and independent” investigations leading to fair trials seeking reparations ought to take place.

ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights has worked effortlessly to help many other people and causes in addition to the Rohingya people. Overall, the APHR shows its dedication and commitment to protecting the most vulnerable populations.

– Lauren Peacock
Photo: Flickr

Sesame Street's Rohingya MuppetsSesame Street is developing two Rohingya muppets to help refugee children overcome trauma. Sesame Street aims to address the effects of poverty by fostering access to education. Poverty affects all aspects of life. Children who live in poverty suffer from many physical, intellectual and emotional complications. Child stunting, for example, is a result of nutrient-deficient diets, repeated infection and a lack of psychosocial stimulation in the first years of a child’s life. This has dire long-term outcomes for children, including impaired intellectual development. Sesame Street’s Rohingya muppets aim to improve the intellectual development of Rohingya children, which directly affects education, and in turn, poverty.

Stunting and Malnutrition in Rohingya Children

The Rohingya people are a stateless Muslim minority group who have lived in a state of flux, between Myanmar and Bangladesh, since they were forced to flee Myanmar. They were violently persecuted by the Myanmar military, an instance of ethnic cleansing. Close to 800,000 Rohingya refugees have escaped to Bangladesh. It is common for refugees to live in refugee camps within Bangladesh.

A group of refugee camps, located in Cox’s Bazar, was the subject of a 2017-2018 study on the rates of stunting and malnutrition in Rohingya children. The study found that the rate of stunting “dropped from 44% to 38% in the main camp.” Although it is positive that the rate of childhood stunting declined, the rate of childhood stunting still remained dangerously close to the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) critical health emergency threshold of 40%.

Additionally, the rate of acute malnutrition dropped from close to 20% to nearly 10%. Childhood deaths declined. The rate of diarrhea, caused in some instances by dehydration or bacterial infection, also declined. Nonetheless, these rates remain too high to relieve concerns and the situation is still described as dire.

Malnutrition affects a child’s developing brain, impacting education and reducing the ability of a person to lift themselves out of poverty.

Sesame Street’s Rohingya Muppets

The majority of humanitarian funding is deployed to address acute effects of poverty like stunting and malnutrition. Sesame Street aims to address the effects of poverty by focusing on education and intellectual development. Sherrie Westin is the president of social impact for Sesame Workshop and she identified that “less than 3% of all aid is used for education.”

Sesame Street’s Rohingya muppets consist of two characters, Noor Yasmin and Aziz, to connect with Rohingya children on an intellectual and emotional level. Westin feels that without intervention by Sesame Street, Rohingya children risk growing up unable to read and write or do simple math.

Westin cited scientific research as the basis for her concern. Similar to the way inadequate dietary nutrition and disease lead to physical stunting, stress and trauma stunt brain development. Sesame Street aims to address the effects of poverty by providing emotional and intellectual support to Rohingya children who have endured trauma.

BRAC’s Humanitarian Play Lab

In Bangladesh, Sesame Street partnered with BRAC. BRAC’s Humanitarian Play Labs are designed to help children learn through play and recover from emotional trauma in the process. BRAC designs its play labs to resemble settings that are familiar to the children it works with. In Bangladesh, this means that Rohingya children are surrounded by “motifs and paintings significant to Rohingya culture.”

Sesame Street’s Rohingya muppets reflect an integral part of BRAC’s approach. Children relate best to characters that they can identify with and they flourish in settings that are familiar and comfortable. BRAC’s success speaks for itself. Close to 90% of the kids that BRAC works with complete the fifth grade of schooling.

Sesame Street Addresses Rohingya Poverty

While the humanitarian crisis among Rohingya refugees is ongoing, recognition of the long-term effects of stress and trauma on intellectual development is crucial to lifting the Rohingya out of poverty. Education alleviates poverty and negating the effects of trauma will allow for proper intellectual development to take on educational endeavors. Sesame Street aims to address the effects of poverty by focusing its attention on the intellectual development of Rohingya children.

– Taylor Pangman
Photo: Flickr

Rohingya refugee campsLow-income areas with a high population density are at the highest risk of contracting the coronavirus. This threat is very prevalent in the Rohingya refugee camps, especially for women and girls.

The Issue

Currently in Bangladesh, there are over 860,000 Rohingya refugees living in camps. The Rohingya people, a minority ethnic group from Myanmar, are fleeing from genocidal violence, persecution, discrimination and human rights violations. The Rohingya face violence because they mainly practice Islam while the majority of Myanmar is Buddhist. The large mass of people fleeing into Bangladesh has caused the refugee camps to become immensely populated. The result is overcrowding, only temporary shelter, communal bathrooms and water facilities and limited food space.

Overcrowding and limited space in refugee camps result in the Rohingya having an especially high risk of contracting COVID-19. Currently, the best way to prevent the spread of this disease is to social distance, wear masks and increase testing. However, the Rohingya refugees do not have the space or resources to do this. As of June 2020, there were four deaths and 45 confirmed cases within the Rohingya refugee population. However, because there is a huge lack of testing, these numbers are most likely not accurate. The hospitals in city centers no longer have resources themselves to treat any more people. As such, many infected Rohingya aren’t being accepted.

How Women are Fighting Back

Oxfam, an NGO fighting poverty, traveled to the Rohingya refugee camps to help build better water, sanitation and hygiene stations. This includes systems like water taps and hand washing stations, which could be potential risk areas for disease spreading. When designing the new water and sanitation facilities, Oxfam interviewed many girls and women to hear their thoughts. The women and girls contributed to design aspects like how the stations should stand, where hooks should go, and even suggested a mirror. All of the expertise given by those Rohingya women and girls has spread to other camps. Now 300 hand-washing and water stations are implemented in three different refugee camps.

Women also have taken on the important role of spreading information and discounting myths surrounding COVID-19 in the refugee camps. One woman, Ashmida Begum, walks around the camp dispelling myths. Begum explained that she uses the Quran to help explain the virus and disease prevention. She mainly helps other women and children who are a large majority of Rohingya refugee camps. Misinformation has led Bangladesh to lift internet restrictions on the Rohingya refugees. The barriers were originally in place to quell panic and stop rumors. Instead, rumors and myths spread and local women like Begum worked to stop them.

Why Women

Women have been so effective in helping the refugee camps because the local people trust them. They have special access in reaching other women, who normally do not leave their homes often and do not have internet.

Women are traditionally the primary caregiver of the family, so they especially need to be healthy and informed to keep the rest of the family safe. This is also why women’s input is needed in the sanitation and water stations; women will be using them the most.

Impacts of this Work

The work that the women and girls of Rohingya refugee camps have impacts beyond fighting COVID-19. Oxfam reports that the design process helped girls take a more active role in their own lives. They were able to think and speak for themselves.

The rise in panic and social tensions in the camps resulted in a rise in domestic violence and violence against women. Rohingya women stepped into leadership roles and formed networks to help combat that panic around the virus to counter the gender-based attacks.

The work done by the women in Rohingya refugee camps to fight COVID-19 is helping to increase cleanliness and knowledge about the virus. They are slowing the spread of the virus and giving women and girls a way to be leaders in their communities.

Claire Brady
Photo: Flickr

Malaysian RefugeesAlthough the majority of Malaysian refugees reside in or near the country’s capital city, Kuala Lumpur, thousands live outside this area and struggle to access urban centers for crucial services. As a result, the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) has opened its first outreach and community center outside Kuala Lumpur.

Refugees In Malaysia

Nearly 180,000 refugees and asylum seekers are registered with the UNHCR across Malaysia. Currently, refugee community groups estimate that tens of thousands more reside in the country undocumented. Rohingya Muslims make up the majority of Malaysia’s refugee population. Malaysia currently hosts the largest number of Rohingya refugees in Southeast Asia. Other refugee populations originate from countries such as Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia, and Afghanistan.

Rising Hostility

Although initially supportive of refugees and asylum seekers, Malaysia has become increasingly hostile towards these vulnerable populations. For example, the country is not a signatory to the 1953 UN Refugee Convention. This means it does not recognize the legal status of refugees and asylum seekers. Classified as illegal immigrants, refugees in Malaysia risk arrest, detention, and deportation. Xenophobia towards foreigners has risen in recent years. Many now view Rohingya refugees as a threat to the nation’s social, economic, and security systems.

Malaysia’s refugee populations are especially vulnerable to aggressive crackdowns on immigration during the COVID-19 pandemic. Malaysian authorities have increased immigration arrests in refugee and migrant neighborhoods and turned away nearly 30 boats of displaced Rohingyas since the virus began. Human rights groups warn that the virus could spread through the country’s overloaded immigration detention centers, and reduce the likelihood of refugees seeking coronavirus treatment. The Malaysian government’s COVID-19 relief package excludes refugees despite their need for food and essential services.

The Johor Outreach and Community Centre

As there are no refugee camps in Malaysia, most settle into urban areas of the greater Klang Valley Region including Kuala Lumpur. However, thousands of refugees live outside this region and struggle to access urban UNHCR centers. These refugees have to travel long distances just to access crucial services. UNHCR is working to make essential services accessible to refugee communities living outside Kuala Lumpur through the establishment of outreach and community care centers. The refugee agency has recently opened a model outreach center in Johor, a southern state near Kuala Lumpur, and plans to develop more centers across Malaysia in the coming years.

The Johor Outreach and Community Centre (JOCC) will make essential services accessible to over 16,000 refugees in Southern Malaysia. This will save these vulnerable communities over three and a half hours of travel time and excessive bus fare costs. Moreover, the outreach center is life-changing during the COVID-19 pandemic, as it will bring vital services to Johor’s refugee population while preventing the movement of people and gathering of crowds in urban areas.

The JOCC will be managed by Cahaya Surya Bakti (CSB), a partner of the UNHCR. Since 2013, the Malaysian-based NGO has provided community-based support to Johor’s refugee community. CSB works to ensure the education of refugee children in Johor and develop resilient communities through the establishment of schools, refugee empowerment programs, health services and outreach initiatives like food distributions. The JOCC will help CSB strengthen its existing community-led initiatives and provide a safe space for refugees throughout the state.

The Importance of UNHCR Documentation Services

Outreach and community centers provide critical UNHCR registration and renewal services to Malaysia’s refugee populations. Registering with the UNHCR provides refugees claims of asylum and identification as “Persons of Concern”. UNHCR cards demonstrate official identity and refugee status and are usually respected by Malaysian authorities, protecting refugees from illegal immigration arrests. In addition, UNHCR cards incentivize businesses to employ refugees in the informal economic sector and reduce the foreigner’s fare at public hospitals. Refugees are deemed illegal immigrants with no rights if their UNHCR card is not updated every five years. The JOCC will make UNHCR registration and renewal services more accessible and prevent card expirations from upheaving the lives of Johor’s refugee community. The center will also provide accurate, up to date information on refugee protection in Malaysia, as well as available services.

Looking Ahead

The JOCC is a symbol of hope for refugee populations outside Malaysia’s urban areas. Expanding UNHCR outreach and community centers across the country will give refugees greater access to documentation and essential services. Therefore, this is a vital step in enabling them to contribute to society and rebuild their lives.

Claire Brenner

Photo: Flickr

Myanmar's Most Vulnerable PopulationsThe country of Myanmar is facing many difficulties regarding the spread and effects of COVID-19. With a tattered healthcare system, warring states, a fragile economy and thousands of people displaced, Myanmar’s most vulnerable populations are experiencing several risks. Displaced people living in detention camps, Rohingya Muslims and the poor disproportionately face the negative effects of COVID-19 in culmination with a declining economy.

Myanmar

The World Health Organization (WHO) has classified Myanmar’s health system as one of the worst in the world. According to official data, about 40% of Myanmar’s population live below or close to the poverty line.

There is a limited number of doctors, with 6.1 doctors per 10,000 people. Additionally, there are as few as one doctor per 83,000 people in conflict-affected areas according to Human Rights Watch.

Furthermore, there is little healthcare or medical facilities in rural areas, where most of Myanmar’s population lives. That makes it extremely difficult for people to seek medical assistance and testing for COVID-19, and estimate the number of coronavirus cases.

Ethnic Conflict

In addition to a poor healthcare system, Myanmar is also riddled with the conflict between the government and Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAOs). Fighting in areas such as the Rakhine state and Chin state prevents any possible COVID-19 relief and government aid.

Additionally, the government has put mobile internet restrictions in place in response to the armed conflicts. Lack of accessible internet limits information about the virus along with access to medical services, preventing people from knowing the government’s response to COVID-19 and how they can protect themselves.

The Vulnerable

It is at a time like this that minorities and threatened groups are the most vulnerable. Many aid workers fear that on top of inadequate resources and poor living conditions, the virus could exacerbate hostile emotions towards minorities and targeted groups in Myanmar.

Groups such as displaced persons and the Rohingya Muslims face difficult obstacles in receiving medical treatment or preventative measures against the COVID-19 virus.

Displaced People

According to Human Rights Watch, there are about 350,000 displaced people in Myanmar, and 130,000 people living in detention camps in the Rakhine state. Military conflict between the government and ethnic armed groups mainly caused these people’s displacement. Living conditions are dismal in these camps, with little to no resources for treating or preventing COVID-19. There is limited access to clean water, toilets and medical services. Diseases are common and according to a Human Rights Report, “in such camps, one toilet is shared by as many as 40 people, [and] one water access point by as many as 600.”

The Rohingya Muslims

The Rohingya Muslims, a religious minority group, is one of Myanmar’s most vulnerable populations. They have been living in detention camps after experiencing persecution in Myanmar. The Myanmar government has restricted their freedom of movement, and the Rohingya Muslims live in squalid camp conditions. There are only two health centers available, both unequipped to test and treat COVID-19.

Living conditions are extremely cramped. According to a Forbes article, one of the refugee camps, Kutupalong, houses “almost 860,000 refugees. They are more densely populated than New York, with more than 100,000 people living in each square mile.” With people living in such close proximity to one another, the spread of COVID-19 through the Rohingya Muslims is inevitable.

Economic Effects on the Poor

COVID-19 also negatively impacts Myanmar’s economy. As a consequence, it has exacerbated poverty and lowered living conditions. According to the International Growth Centre and World Bank Open Data, Myanmar had the lowest per capita GDP in Southeast Asia in 2018.

Furthermore, because Myanmar’s economy largely relies on international investment and exported goods such as garment products, COVID-19’s disruption on the world economy has caused Myanmar to further suffer.

Especially affected by the economic decline are poor workers and households. Groups such as “street and mobile vendors and various day-rate workers in urban areas, and the landless and day-rate workers in rural areas” experience adverse effects as income, food security and employment decline, according to the International Growth Centre.

In the face of the COVID-19 virus, Myanmar suffers many challenges that make preventing and treating the virus extremely difficult. In all of this, Myanmar’s most vulnerable populations – the displaced, the Rohingya Muslims and Myanmar’s poor – are at the greatest disadvantage. Although there have been efforts by the government to provide financial aid for preventative measures and help from humanitarian organizations, it is not enough. These vulnerable groups are still hugely at risk from COVID-19.

Silvia Huang
Photo: Flickr


For decades, Myanmar’s Rohingya minority has suffered from discrimination; in 2017, an ethnic cleansing began. Three years later, with more than a million Rohingya refugees forced from their homes, the International Court of Justice declared a way forward for Myanmar — Will there be justice for this Rohingya crisis?

The Persecution of the Rohingya

Forced from their homes, thousands of Rohingya, a Muslim minority in Myanmar, fled to Bangladesh. In 2017, Myanmar’s security forces attacked the ethnic minority in the western state of Rakhine, triggering the Rohingya crisis. Myanmar’s armed forces, otherwise known as the Tatmadaw, participated in abuses against the Rohingya, inciting massacres, gang rape, burning and looting. More than 700,000 Rohingya refugees fled to Bangladesh, while other Rohingya were internally displaced in Myanmar. Most fled without any belongings, so the refugees rely on Bangladesh’s refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar to provide life-saving assistance: food, water, healthcare, shelter and proper sanitation.

The U.N. considers this conflict to be an ethnic cleansing with “genocidal intent.” Yet the Rohingya had endured ethnic persecution for decades. In 1982, while Myanmar was governed by a military junta, the government passed a Citizenship Law stating that citizens in Myanmar could only be from certain ethnic groups — the Rohingya did not make this list. With their citizenship rights taken away, institutionalized discrimination began as the Rohingya were labeled as foreigners, illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. Because of this, the Rohingya were often denied access to healthcare and education; permission was also needed before marrying or traveling to a different village. Now, for the thousands of refugees, returning to their country seems impossible. For the half-million Rohingya that remain in Myanmar, targets of laws and practices that overlook their abuse, the threat of genocide persists.

Will Myanmar be Held Accountable?

While Myanmar’s civilian government and its leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, adamantly deny any ethnic persecution or cleansing, in January 2020 the International Court of Justice ruled that Myanmar must protect the Rohingya from persecution and prevent the destruction of any evidence related to the genocide allegations. The case was brought to the ICJ by The Gambia on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation to advocate for the Rohingya Muslims, as Myanmar ignored previous international calls to investigate human rights violations.

With this ruling, Myanmar’s government is required to do everything possible to prevent the persecution, killing and any other bodily or mental harm of the Rohingya by the military or any other civilian group. For further accountability, Myanmar must submit a report to update the ICJ on its proceedings, and then send in additional reports every six months until the court is satisfied that the Rohingya crisis has ended. It will take several more years before the ICJ can determine whether Myanmar committed genocide.

However, the ICJ does not have enforcement power, which means that Myanmar faces a choice: to comply with the ICJ rulings or ignore them and continue the current treatment of the Rohingya. Aung San Suu Kyi believes that the case presented before the court showed “an incomplete and misleading factual picture” of the Rohingya crisis in Rakhine. She assured the ICJ that military leaders would be put on trial if found guilty; however, the court’s ruling suggests that the case was not misrepresented and that Suu Kyi’s assurances may not be fulfilled. Therefore, the future remains uncertain for the Rohingya.

Looking Forward

While it is up to Myanmar alone to comply with the ICJ, the international community can still pressure Myanmar to follow the court’s ruling. In 2019, Senator Benjamin Cardin introduced the Burma Human Rights and Freedom Act (S.1186) which aims to address the Rohignya’s humanitarian crisis. If passed, it will provide needed aid and help with resettlement. This aid will only be given once Myanmar and its military can prove they have made progress in keeping to international human rights standards. Showing support for this bill is key to get it through Congress, so contacting local representatives by calling or emailing is imperative.

The Special Rapporteur for Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, stated “it is not too late for the country to change course and reorient itself to transform into a democracy that embraces human rights for all.” They believe that by addressing issues of discrimination, implementing victim-centered justice mechanisms, rewriting laws and holding those who have violated human rights accountable, Myanmar can build a new future where the Rohingya are welcome, and the refugees, like Aziza, can return home without fear of persecution.

Zoe Padelopoulos
Photo: Flickr

Health of Rohingya Muslims
Beginning in August 2017 and continuing to the present day, an estimated 24,000 members of the Rohingya Muslim ethnoreligious group have been murdered by Myanmar militia forces for cleansing purposes. Members of Myanmar’s army and police forces have raped around 18,000 girls and women. A total of approximately 225,000 homes have burned down or undergone vandalism since the beginning of this crackdown on the Muslim minority group of Myanmar’s Rakhine State. Since then, an influx of Rohingya Muslims has entered the Cox’s Bazar region of Bangladesh in attempts to escape the inhumane living circumstances of the Rakhine State. By February 2018, around 688,000 Rohingyas had entered Bangladesh. They joined close to 212,000 Rohingyas that settled in Bangladesh before the exodus that began six months prior. One area of concern is the health of Rohingya Muslims.

Even after leaving the region where they experienced persecution, the quality of health of Rohingya Muslims has not been ideal. This is due to the frequency in which they travel into Bangladesh, as well as the large groups they move within.

Health Concerns for Refugees

One major, ongoing concern for the health of Rohingya Muslims is the fact that they have limited access to preventative health care services. These services become necessary when a mass group of individuals resides in a singular location, like a refugee camp, for an extended period. According to an Intersector Coordination group situation report, rape survivors among Rohingya Muslims have not received adequate clinical treatment for harms and diseases they may now carry.

There is also a lack of preventative and diagnostic services for blood-borne diseases like HIV and tuberculosis. The World Health Organization found in 2017 that, though both Bangladesh and Myanmar had comparatively low rates of HIV cases, Rakhine state in 2015 had an exceptionally large number in comparison to the rest of Myanmar. This, paired with the fact that Myanmar armed forces raped a large number of women and girls, illustrates a need for more thorough diagnostic procedures for blood-borne and sexually transmitted diseases.

Around 42,000 pregnant women and 72,000 lactating mothers require quality care assistance, as of October 22, 2018. Around 3,000 of those women had entered health facilities to receive treatment for their symptoms of malnourishment.

Medical Advancements and Humanitarian Aid

While refugees have limited access to health care, medical advancements have occurred to address as many of these refugees’ needs as possible. The World Health Organization reported on March 18, 2019, that a new software known as Go.Data will now allow for more efficient investigations into disease outbreaks, “including field data collection, contact tracing and visualization of disease chains of transmission.” On February 28, 2018, the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Centre donated $2 million to the Sadar District Hospital in Cox’s Bazar. This will help strengthen the medical facility in the region of Bangladesh that includes a dense population of Rohingya refugees.

One more great stride in improving the health of the Rohingya Muslims: In the year following the August 2017 mass migration,  155 new health posts emerged, supplying for around 7,700 individuals per location. This could not have been possible without the partnership of the Bangladesh government, the World Health Organization and other groups supporting the rights of the Rohingya.

Continued support for and increased awareness of the persisting struggles of the Rohingya Muslims will do incredible things in ensuring improvement to their quality of life.

– Fatemeh-Zahra Yarali
Photo: Flickr

5 Facts About Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina
Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina took office in Bangladesh in 2008 and continues to increase the development of the country. Her persistent implementation of policies that aid economic and human development shows the strength of her vision for Bangladesh. These five facts about Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina showcase the illustrious leadership of one of the most powerful women in the world.

5 Facts About Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina

  1. The Awami League (AL) Party: Sheikh Hasina belongs to the Awami League (AL) political party. Her father, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, originally founded the Awami League in 1949 and it remains the oldest political party in Bangladesh. The political party began as a result of the division of Pakistan into East and West Pakistan. When the people of Bangladesh (formerly East Pakistan) gained independence from Pakistan, the foundation of the nation embodied the moderate socialist ideology of this political party.
  2. Growth for Bangladesh: In 2018, Bangladesh became one of the few countries to graduate from classification as a least developed country (LDC). Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her political party promised to make Bangladesh a middle-income country by 2021, and have come closer to this goal with improved health and education for the citizens of Bangladesh. Bangladesh’s progress makes it a country with one of the fastest-growing economies worldwide. The gross domestic product (GDP) in Bangladesh has risen from 5.04 percent in 2009 at the start of Hasina’s first term to 7.86 percent in 2018. Projections determine that Bangladesh will move to the status of a developed country by 2024.
  3. Humanitarian: Sheikh Hasina received the nickname mother of humanity from a U.K.- based news channel. These five facts about Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina reflect just a fraction of her devotion to bettering the lives of people. Many media outlets highlighted the generosity of the Prime Minister after she provided shelter to over 750,000 Rohingyas refugees fleeing Myanmar’s Rakhine State. This act of kindness earned Hasina the Mother of Humanity Social Work Award Policy, 2018 from the Bangladeshi cabinet. The cabinet presented Hasina with an 18-carat 25-gram gold medal, a certificate of honor and Tk 200,000 ($2,366 U.S.) while recognizing her reputation as an exceptional humanitarian.
  4. Food Production and Life Expectancy: In the last 10 years, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has helped increase food production and the average life expectancy in Bangladesh. Back in 1974, Bangladesh suffered from mass starvation. Today, the self-sufficiency the country has obtained from economic growth helps it feed its population of 166 million people. During Hasina’s office, the percentage of people living in poverty in Bangladesh has decreased from 19 percent to 9 percent, while the life expectancy has increased from 69.3 years in 2008 to 72.8 years in 2017.
  5. The Ashrayan Project: Sheikh Hasina initiated the Ashrayan Project to find homes for 4,400 Bangladeshi people that became homeless after natural disasters such as landslides and river erosion. This project has arranged housing for thousands of homeless and displaced people. Moreover, it works to keep them self-reliant by providing various training on how to generate income. The project will build a tower named after Prime Minister Hasina in 2019 along with 139 multi-storied buildings in 2019.

In the end, these five facts about Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina exemplify the efforts of a leader that wants the best for the people of her country and works hard to give them ample security in her leadership. Bangladesh has made tremendous strides as a country with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s support. Although Hasina’s upcoming fourth term may be her last, she has forever changed the face of Bangladesh.

Nia Coleman
Photo: Flickr

Response to the Rohingya CrisisIn Myanmar, Rohingya Muslims are the target of an ethnic cleansing campaign. Raging on since August 2017, the military-led offensive has caused the displacement of almost a million people, the destruction of at least 392 Rohingya villages and the internment of some 125,000 Rohingya in detention camps. While international authorities have placed pressure on the government to stop its atrocities, a recent update from the U.N.’s special rapporteur, Yanghee Lee, makes it clear that the situation is still dire. The U.S.’ response to the Rohingya crisis has been considerable, but there is still a lot more that needs to be done to ensure the safety of this vulnerable population.

A Coordinated Response in Bangladesh

Many Rohingya (745,000) have fled to the neighboring country of Bangladesh since the violence began. The Bangladesh government has cooperated with international bodies to ensure the reception and integration of these many refugees, but several challenges remain. For one, about 84 percent of the refugee population resides in a camp in the city of Cox’s Bazar; its location on the Bay of Bengal renders the area subject to monsoons and cyclones, which, combined with congested living conditions, increase the likelihood of death and disease. Additionally, many displaced women face sexual violence in both Myanmar and the refugee sites, and 12 percent of refugees experience acute malnutrition, creating an urgent need for adequate medical services.

In response to the Rohingya crisis, the United States has provided $450 million in aid to host communities in Bangladesh. The United States recently earmarked $105 million for the U.N.’s 2019 Joint Response Plan (JRP). This aid is important, as the JRP works to:

  • Register and document all refugees, so as to provide them with the legal standing to engage in economic activity and receive further state services in Bangladesh.
  • Improve disaster preparedness among refugee holding sites, which also entails creating an improved population density distribution.
  • Create crucial health programs, such as food vouchers and mental health services. These programs have been particularly successful—the level of acute malnutrition, while still high, is seven points lower than it was in 2018 and women’s access to reproductive health services is on the rise.

Further Steps Needed

In contributing to the U.N.’s JRP, the United States mitigates the negative effects of the Rohingya crisis. However, the political conditions in Myanmar that caused so many to flee remain, largely because the government continues to carry out atrocities against the Rohingya people. The leader of the country’s military, General Min Aung Hlaing, has directly authorized the ethnic cleansing campaigns. According to Refugees International, this has essentially allowed Myanmar soldiers to impose a reign of terror on Rohingya villages. The group has documented “consistent accounts of Myanmar soldiers surrounding villages, burning homes to the ground, stabbing, shooting, and raping the inhabitants, leaving the survivors to flee for their lives.”

Myanmar continues to block humanitarian relief organizations from entering the country, which is a roadblock preventing a thorough response to the Rohingya crisis. Moreover, the government continues to deny the existence of military campaigns, which allows perpetrators to avoid punishment.

The U.S. has worked to place pressure on the Myanmar government so as to create accountability checks and dissuade other leaders from taking similar adverse actions against the Rohingya. For example, on July 16, 2019, the Trump administration placed sanctions on a number of military officials, including General Min Aung Hlaing. Countries and organizations can do more to halt the violence, though. Both the special rapporteur and Refugees International have called upon the U.S. and other members of the U.N. Security Council to refer the case to the International Criminal Court (ICC) or to set up an independent tribunal, which could try those responsible for the Rohingya crisis. While the ICC prosecutor has already taken preliminary investigative steps, a U.N. Security Council referral or tribunal establishment would put even greater political pressure on Myanmar.

Moving Forward

While the Rohingya crisis was years in the making, its impact has been especially acute in the past two years. The U.S.’ response to the Rohingya crisis has included successful collaboration with the U.N., and raised hopes of bringing the perpetrators to justice. In so doing, it will save countless lives and move the Rohingya community in Myanmar one step closer to protection.

– James Delegal
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Living Conditions in Kutupalong Bulukhail
Myanmar is a nation of deep ethnic divide. In speeches, prominent military, civilian and religious leaders refer to it was “The Western Gate” — depicting Burmese society as a rhetorical last-line-of-defense, holding back “hordes” of Muslims from “invading” Buddhist Myanmar and Thailand. This “at war” mentality has fermented for generations, culminating in a climate of prejudice where any action is justified.

Background of the Current Crisis

The current crisis began when violence escalated in late 2016. Burmese security forces used hostilities against the ARSA — a Rohingya ethnic militia — as a pretext for military action in a counterinsurgency campaign.

Atrocities followed.

Over 350 villages were burned to the ground between August and November 2017 alone. And, since 2017, 688,000 Rohingya fled into Bangladesh, taking refuge in Bangladesh with the hundreds of thousands who had already fled in the years prior.

Kutupalong Bulukhail — known as the “mega camp” — is the largest of the refugee camps built in the hills of Cox’s Bazar, one of Bangladesh’s poorest districts. It serves as the home to 600,000 people. Swaths of forest needed to be cleared in order to make room for the bamboo and tarp shelters of refugees. While the camp is a source of safety, it was hastily constructed during the crisis and lacks modern infrastructure which means that facilities are far from perfect.

Containing the Spread of Disease

With masses of people living in close quarters without modern infrastructure, infection can easily spread. Focusing on preventing infectious diseases, is often more effective than treatment.

One high priority disease is Diphtheria, a potentially lethal bacterial infection that affects the airways and the heart. Children are in particular danger of contracting the disease. Since Oct. 2017 the WHO has vaccinated 898,000 children, living in and near the refugee camps as part of a targeted prevention program. By inoculating those with the weakest immune systems viruses it can be kept from spreading to adults.

To keep ahead of future problems, 153 independent health facilities serving the refugees have banded together in an electronic Early Warning and Response System created by the WHO. Everyday medical professionals verify and investigate alerts, helping to deliver fast treatment.

Addressing Hunger

Hunger is another concern. Living as stateless, often internally displaced, people many Rohingya have already endured a life of poverty. Their situation is worsened when they are forced to leave everything they cannot carry as they flee to Bangladesh.

Years of poverty and forced migration result in malnutrition. Children are especially vulnerable: 38 percent have stunted growth and 12 percent are severely malnourished.

Once they arrive, organizations like Action Against Hunger (AAH) work to feed refugees. Assisted by Rohingya volunteers, AAH operates community kitchens in the camps which serve 11,000 meals every day. Throughout 2017 the kitchens and other programs have helped 422,963 people.

Providing Access to Safe Water

Water has proven to be a more challenging problem than food or medicine. Providing drinking water and ensuring that it is drinkable is no small feat. AAH, UNICEF and Doctors Without Borders have all made efforts to improve water conditions by digging wells and constructing long-term latrines. AAH alone installed more than 230 drinking water access points in 2017.

Now as monsoon season is here, living conditions in Kutupalong Bulukhail are worse than ever. The heavy rains frequently destabilize the newly deforested terrain of the camp and the threat landslide become apparent. Fortunately, those in the most dangerous zones have been relocated to safer areas by the UNHCR.

The seasonal hardships make Myanmar’s offer of “safe and dignified” repatriation more enticing. However, the U.N. and dozens of aid organizations warn that it is likely a false promise. Refugees that return home would only put them in further danger. Kutupalong Balukhail will likely be their home for some time to come.

One refugee recalls a conversation with her brother:

“I have a brother back in Myanmar. They are still afraid to sleep at night… After coming here, through the blessings of Allah and the Bangladesh government, we can sleep at night.”

– John Glade
Photo: Flickr