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

The Rohingya Refugees: What to Know and International Response
According to the U.N., the country bordering Laos to the east and Bangladesh to the west is called Myanmar, but to the U.S. and U.K., it is Burma. Its name is just one source of the conflict that has plagued the country for years; another is regarding relations between the government and the Rohingya, a Muslim minority group living in the Rakhine region. After Myanmar’s independence in 1948, the Rohingya people in the Rakhine region became stateless and the Myanmar government refused to give them citizenship. The animosity between the Rohingya and Myanmar’s government continued to grow until the group experienced exclusion altogether from the national census in 2014. In 2017, the Rohingya faced a crisis that forced them to seek help from other nations and become refugees.

Background Information on Rohingya Refugees

In August 2017, the perpetuated institutional discrimination against the Rohingya hit its limits when the Burmese military launched a campaign of targeted violence. In the first month after violence broke out, at least 6,700 Rohingya were killed and 300 Rohingya villages were burned. As a result, an estimated 740,000 Rohingya were displaced out of Myanmar’s Rakhine region and into Bangladesh. Today, more than 900,000 Rohingya still live in Bangladesh.

Upon arriving in Bangladesh, Rohingya refugees found shelter in refugee camps that are now some of the largest in the world. Due to the pace at which mass numbers of Rohingya became refugees. Camps did not have adequate resources including shelter, food, clean water and medical facilities. Many refugees have also become traumatized after witnessing the acts of violence in the Burmese military campaigns. The U.S. State Department now deems the actions as ethnic cleansing.

US Humanitarian Assistance

Since the outbreak of violence in 2017, the U.S. has contributed $669 million in humanitarian assistance to the Rohingya refugees. According to USAID, this funding goes toward addressing the needs of Rohingya refugees including emergency shelter, food, health services, psychological support, education, water and sanitation. Additionally, the U.S. funding aims to support programs that will improve disaster preparedness and education for Rohingya in Bangladesh.

With this assistance, the U.S. also aims to augment existing systems and programs that provide relief to refugees. For instance, the increased number of vouchers that are going to Rohingya refugees should allow them to buy food in local markets. Furthermore, the U.S.’s push for educational programs for refugees should yield more access to better economic opportunities in Bangladesh.

US Diplomatic Stance

The U.S. State Department has consistently and publicly condemned the actions of the Burmese military against the Rohingya. It also stated a commitment to justice and accountability on behalf of the Rohingya people. Furthermore, the State Department urges Myanmar to formally acknowledge the acts of injustice and violence. It calls on other nations to support this stance as well. In 2018, the U.S. imposed sanctions on four Myanmar military and police commanders and two army units for their human rights abuses against the Rohingya. The Myanmar government did not respond to this stance. As a result, the U.S. imposed more sanctions on a high-ranking general and three senior officers in 2019. The U.S. State Department is also working with international organizations to encourage Myanmar to adopt conditions that would eventually allow Rohingya refugees to return to their homes.

After the outbreak of violence in Myanmar, the U.N. Human Rights Council established the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar in March 2017 to investigate and make conclusions concerning the extent of human rights abuses committed. Its findings conclude that Myanmar committed crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide against the Rohingya.

With Myanmar’s lack of indication that the country will acknowledge the violence the government committed against the Rohingya, almost 1 million Rohingya remain in refugee camps in Bangladesh. The international response has strongly condemned Myanmar’s government and offered humanitarian assistance. However, more permanent plans for the Rohingya refugees will likely need to occur soon. The U.S.’s push for more education in camps is one example of a positive step in the direction toward relief for the Rohingya. In addition, the U.S. along with other nations and international organizations should continue to develop these programs with further humanitarian assistance.

Isabel Serrano
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

 

Sanitation in Rohingya Refugee CampsMass persecution and forced deportation of the stateless Rohingya people in Myanmar have created over 1 million homeless refugees in Southeastern Asia. Historically facing discrimination, the Rohingya are a Muslim minority group in western Myanmar (formerly Burma). They have been regarded as stateless, meaning without citizenship or any rights associated with it, since 1982, and the recent Buddhist nationalist movement has led to increased religious tension. They have mainly fled to Bangladesh, many of them have no choice but to leave Myanmar and enter Bangladesh illegally. This is partly due to their lack of freedom under the Myanmarese government’s labeling of stateless.

Sanitation and Water Issues

The largest refugee camp area in Bangladesh is Cox’s Bazar, where over 900,000 Rohingya people have taken up residence across 27 different locations. The area, not designed to hold this many people for so long, faces extreme overcrowding. The overcrowding is so dire, Bangladesh has been searching for ways to send back the refugees. It has been difficult for many to have adequate sanitation in Rohingya refugee camps. There has even been a worry that existing wells have been constructed too close to the latrines. If this is the case, mass disease outbreaks could occur without sanitation improvements. However, organizations like the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and Oxfam have been working to improve these conditions.

Cox’s Bazar is very susceptible to long dry seasons, from November to April or even May. Long dry seasons lead to the main water reservoirs that the refugees use for their water drying up. Shallow tube wells that some organizations have constructed are also very susceptible to drying. The dry season has been much worse recently due to the climate changes associated with El Niño. To make matters worse, the rain has come only in dramatic cyclones. To ensure sanitation in Rohingya refugee camps, including clean water access and improve sanitation, organizations developed and implemented deep-well tubes.

Deep tube wells penetrate the ground past surface-level aquifers and reach the more stable water table beneath. These wells allow for more consistent water access. The water is then piped up to above-ground tanks with solar energy, where it can be monitored and the quality of water can be maintained at safe levels. Constructed in many strategically placed areas of Cox’s Bazar, there are over 20,000 shallow and deep tube wells in place. With the rapid construction of these wells, the UNHCR and Bangladeshi government have reached the goal of 20 liters per person every day.

Rohingya Women and Issues of Safety

The issue of proper latrine construction and maintenance has also been an issue that plagues the Rohingya refugees, particularly women. Many women and girls do not feel safe using the latrines, or even walking to them. They are typically in very difficult-to-reach areas of the camps. Refugees often must walk down steep, muddy slopes to reach the toilets and showers. Other than the trek, the latrines typically have no roofs or doors, and sometimes have little to no walls. In an area with hundreds of thousands of people, a third of Rohingya women did not feel safe taking a shower or using the toilet, according to a study conducted by Oxfam in 2018.

Refugee women need to feel safe and comfortable. Oxfam has been working with the women to design new latrines. These efforts also help women become more involved in the decision-making processes in the camps. The newly designed latrines have a full four walls, as well as a door, a sink and a stall. By involving more women in infrastructure projects such as these, they become more empowered and eager to participate in decision-making processes. This creates a lasting effect, especially in the younger Rohingya generations, that ensures greater stability among gender equalities in a place where women are largely left out of critical decision discussions.

The Future of Rohingya Refugees

The number of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh is higher than ever. But these refugees have seen major improvements through the engaging and effective efforts from many humanitarian organizations, both governmental and non-governmental. While there are still challenges to overcome, continued improvements in water access means improved sanitation in Rohingya refugee camps and clean water for refugees. Oxfam works to provide upgraded latrines and toilet sanitation for better privacy and safety for women and children. In addition, the construction of thousands of deep-tube wells ensures that no disease outbreaks will take place on account of contamination from the toilets.

While the situation in Myanmar and Bangladesh remains tumultuous, those affected experience rapid developments in their living conditions. More refugees are likely to enter Cox’s Bazar, but sustained support from the international community ensures that more refugees than ever are able to have improved sanitation in Rohingya refugee camps.

Graham Gordon
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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

Angelina Jolie
Unlike her character as a bad girl in Tomb Raider or as a vengeful Maleficent, Angelina Jolie has a soft spot when it involves philanthropy work. The American actress has a long record of helping communities globally. Although a mother of six, Jolie pauses her mom duties to find time to visit developing countries, improve the lives of refugees, get involved with charitable work, create foundations and fund schools in other countries. She is a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and is serving as the co-chair of the Educational Partnership for Children of Conflict.

Angelina Jolie, Goodwill Ambassador

Jolie uses her role as a Goodwill Ambassador to advocate for those who are no longer safe in their home countries. Most recently, Jolie has traveled to Peru and Colombia to visit Venezuelan refugees. During her trip to Peru, she spent two days in Lima at the border where massive groups of refugees enter daily. She spoke with a few refugees to hear stories of what their lives were like before migrating in hopes of a better life and freedom.

Crisis in Venezuela

Nearly 1.3 million Venezuelans are living in Columbia, and Jolie made it her mission to visit a few of them during her trip there. Jolie met with Colombian President Ivan Duque to express concern over the 20,000 Venezuelan children who are at risk of being without basic citizenship. They discussed how children can become nationalized and the importance of international support.

In a statement given at the press conference at the Integrated Assistance Centre, Jolie expresses how serious the influx of refugees affects not only the refugees themselves, but the countries they settle in.“The countries receiving them, like Colombia, are trying to manage an unmanageable situation with insufficient resources,” Jolie said. “This is a life and death situation for millions of Venezuelans. But UNHCR has received only a fraction of the funds it needs, to do even the bare minimum to help them survive.”

Rhoyinga Refugees

In February 2019, Jolie visited Bangladesh for three days to provide help for over 700,000 Rhoyinga refugees who have settled in the country. Jolie expressed concern over the challenges Bangladesh may face as a host country to a great number of refugees. Jolie was especially focused on making sure the refugees were comfortable and content after being forced to leave their home country, Myanmar. “I am here to see what more can be done to ensure Rohingya children can gain an education with recognized qualifications that they need to retain a clear vision for their futures, and, when conditions allow, rebuild their communities in Myanmar,” Jolie said. While there, she also created a new appeal of almost $1 billion dollars to support the rise of refugees.

Angelina Jolie’s fight to improve the lives of refugees dates back to 2002, a year after receiving the role as Goodwill Ambassador for UNHC for Refugees. Her consistent commitment to those who are displaced by force shows she is someone who genuinely cares for the lives of those who are struggling. Angelina Jolie is a prime example of someone using your voice and resources to help those who are in need.

– Jessica Curney

Photo: UNHCR

 

 

Palliative Care
Providing necessary medical care is essential to any humanitarian response. For the approximately 745,000 Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, home to the largest refugee camp in the world, accessing high-quality medical care is often difficult. Palliative care, which is medical treatment for those with chronic or life-threatening illnesses, is often overlooked in humanitarian crises. Two organizations, PalCHASE (Palliative Care in Humanitarian Aid Situations and Emergencies) and the Fasiuddin Khan Research Foundation, are pioneering this treatment for Rohingya refugees.

The purpose of humanitarian health work is to relieve suffering and save lives; however, those who are chronically and perhaps terminally ill are often given less attention than those with more easily treatable ailments.

Who Needs Palliative Care?

Palliative care improves the quality of life for children and adults who have chronic or life-threatening illnesses. Treatment focuses on physical, emotional, social and/or spiritual symptoms, and requires ongoing interaction between the patient and health provider. This care is sometimes provided alongside other therapies and treatments, including chemotherapy for cancer patients.

A 2018 study in the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management on life-threatening illness in Cox’s Bazar found that the most common life-threatening illnesses were tuberculosis, cancer and HIV/AIDS.

They also estimated that 73 percent of those with life-threatening illness experience pain. Approximately half received no pain relief and a majority receive very little pain relief. Other common symptoms include insomnia, cough, anorexia and dyspnea.

The Challenges

While medical supplies are generally available to treat these symptoms, they are often unaffordable, particularly for refugees, and more than 60 percent of patients had to stop taking medications because they were no longer able to afford them.

In addition to medication, palliative care requires a caregiver, and caregivers in Cox’s Bazar are normally family members. Approximately 94 percent of caregivers have no training, and providing hours of daily assistance bathing, feeding, giving medications, etc. is a physically and financially demanding role. Providing this treatment for Rohingya refugees, therefore, is often a significant burden on families, particularly if they have to do a lot of the work themselves.

Moreover, unique challenges arise when children need extensive treatment, as they need extra support and often spend more time in the hospital, separated from family and friends. This increases psychological stress and caregivers are in need of even more training to know how to properly care for children with chronic or life-threatening illnesses.

A Need that Should not be Overlooked

In spite of this need, palliative care for Rohingya refugees is not a priority in the aid sector’s response plan. PalCHASE (Palliative Care in Humanitarian Aid Situations and Emergencies), an organization based in the UK, was created in response to the general lack of palliative care in disaster and conflict responses.

Co-founder Joan Marston stated that palliative care is “really about the dignity of the individual,” noting that already “there’s enough indignity within these humanitarian situations.” The goal of PalCHASE is to get more emergency response plans to incorporate palliative care, hoping that the treatment will cease being an afterthought in the humanitarian response.

The Fasiuddin Khan Research Foundation

The Fasiuddin Khan Research Foundation is Bangladesh-based and is working directly on providing palliative care for Rohingya refugees. It is the first concrete palliative care program with a humanitarian response.

Founder Farzana Khan, despite being unable to secure long-term funding, is on the ground with a team of three addressing the distinct needs in the Rohingya refugee camps. Khan spent 20 years providing palliative care in Bangladesh prior to focusing on the Rohingya refugees, noting that her “core approach” is “dignity and respect.”

Early in their response, Khan’s researchers estimated that thousands of people in the refugee camps may be in need of palliative care and were not currently getting help. To remedy this, it is essential to make this treatment more easily accessible and ensure that refugees know when to seek medical treatment and care.

Changed Lives

Sanjida, a 16-year-old refugee living with untreated meningitis, which is causing increased paralysis, has received palliative care, thanks to Khan and her team. Her sister and caregiver, Khaleda, noted that she can now do more by herself, can call for assistance more easily and just generally seems happier.

Another patient, 10-year-old Mujibur Rahman, who suffers from bone cancer, was struggling to walk and ended up confined to a wheelchair. Dedicated treatment helped manage his pain and within two months helped him walk again.

Since the Rohingya crisis began in 2017, Khan’s team has reached approximately 1,000 patients, including Sanjida and Mujibur. While funding continues to be a problem, Khan hopes that organizations’ successes will help secure more financial support so that they can continue to provide support for Rohingya refugees.

Looking Forward

Regardless, the Fasiuddin Khan Research Foundation should become a model for other humanitarian response teams looking to focus on palliative care. In addition to the Rohingya, other refugees around the world, as well as those who are impoverished, are in need of better treatment in the case of life-threatening or chronic illness. The work of PalCHASE will hopefully increase knowledge about the need for palliative care and encourage humanitarian leaders to consider it more seriously.

– Sara Olk

Photo: Flickr

 

Education for Rohingya Children

Hundreds of thousands of ethnic Muslims from Myanmar’s Rakhine State have been fleeing to Bangladesh with the hope of finding shelter from the extreme violence they have had to endure. As the minority group of Myanmar, the Rohingya Muslims are the populations facing discrimination and persecution from the Buddhist majority, which is defined by U.N. human rights officials as “ethnic cleansing.”

Rohingya refugees were therefore forced to escape their country to find safety in neighboring Bangladesh, which already housed almost 430,000 of those refugees. With the increasing influx of refugees fleeing into Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, the country has announced that it will create the world’s largest refugee settlement with the capacity to shelter 800,000 displaced Rohingya Muslims, including children.

According to UNICEF, 250,000 Rohingya children have escaped from Myanmar to the host community of Bangladesh, making up at least 60% of all refugees. According to the research-based advocacy project — the Arakan Project — education for Rohingya children has always been at risk, as most of them did not have the chance to attend school due to poverty factors and lack of schools. Additionally, Rohingya students are being barred access from universities in Burma. Now living in refugee camps in Bangladesh, some of the students are missing out on proper education, as secondary schools in camps are not allowed by the Bangladeshi government.

However, UNICEF has been working toward providing proper education for Rohingya children within the camps. On September 29, the organization announced that it will build new learning centers for Rohingya children in addition to the 182 existing centers in the camps. In total, UNICEF is planning to increase its numbers to 1,300 learning centers in order to provide education to the expected 200,000 child refugees coming to Bangladesh.

These learning centers will only provide education to children ranging from ages four to 14. Therefore, education for Rohingya children older than 14 is still compromised, leading to illiteracy for the majority of those students. Currently, there is an estimated total of 80% of Rohingya people being illiterate. UNICEF is working on developing additional educational opportunities for the future of Rohingya children.

Sarah Soutoul

Photo: Flickr