Rohingya crisis, a year later: 500,000 children at risk of becoming a 'lost generation'

Tomorrow marks the first anniversary of clashes between the Myanmar military and Arakan rebels. A year later, about 700,000 Rohingya refugees are still in Bangladesh to which must be added another 200,000 who arrived in a previous exodus. Repatriation is slow, but in Myanmar the Independent Commission of Enquiry is getting ready to work.

Dhaka (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The future of more than 500,000 Rohingya children overcrowding refugee camps in Bangladesh on the border with Myanmar is "hanging by a thread". They are at risk of becoming a "lost generation", this according to the latest UNICEF report, published on the eve of the first anniversary of the start of the refugee crisis.

According to the UN agency, children have lived in improvised camps for a year and do not have access to education. International efforts are urgently needed to prevent them from falling prey to despair and frustration.

In its report titled Rohingya Child Alert: Futures in the Balance, Building Hope for a Generation of Rohingya Children, UNICEF warns that children living in the cramped and rudimentary refugee camps in the Cox’s Bazar area face a bleak future – with few opportunities to learn, and no idea when they might return home. 

UNICEF Director for Emergency Operations Manuel Fontaine told the Dhaka Tribune that “For about one third of children up to the age of 14, a network of learning centres and child-friendly spaces offer a chance to begin healing, and respite from their harsh surroundings.

“A semblance of normality has descended on the camps and the neighbouring communities, but it’s a normality that cannot last indefinitely," he said. "The refugees live on a knife’s-edge, gripped by uncertainty about their future, and still traumatised by their experiences in Myanmar.”

Local NGOs have long emphasized the difficulties faced by children and teenagers, the most defenceless in refugee emergencies.

According to Bangladesh’s Disaster Management and Relief Ministry, nearly 700,000 Rohingya fled Myanmar after 25 August 2017, when violence broke out between the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) and the Myanmar military.

The refugees joined another 200,000 who had escaped Myanmar in previous years, surviving mostly in camps in the Cox's Bazar area thanks to the help of humanitarian agencies and support provided by the Church.

Recently, the governments of Bangladesh and Myanmar agreed on the repatriation of refugees, which was due to start in January 2018.

The Advisory Commission on Rakhine State noted last week, at the end of its work, that resettlement process is slow. Whilst welcoming the efforts of the Myanmar government to resolve the crisis, it said that there is still a lot of work to do.

With tomorrow marking the first anniversary of renewed fighting between the Myanmar military and ARSA, Myanmar authorities have taken steps to avoid any incidents, deploying about a thousand agents in 160 police outposts on the border with Bangladesh.

Meanwhile, Myanmar’s State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi spoke about the issue of displaced Muslims during a state visit to Singapore.

She said that the independent Commission of Enquiry (ICoE) will soon start to investigate allegations of human rights violations.

She did not give any details about the timing of refugee repatriation, noting that everything depends on the process of providing identity papers to the refugees in Bangladesh.