Guest Blog: A Snapshot Survey of Rohingya Refugee Camps

This week’s guest blog is presented by Xchange, MOAS’ partner organisation for research and analysis. You can read the full survey and find out more about Xchange at www.xchange.org.

Six months on from the start of their exodus, almost 700,000 Rohingya refugees have arrived in Bangladesh fleeing violence and persecution in Myanmar. On August 25th last year, long-standing tensions in northern Rakhine State erupted into a campaign of brutal repression at the hands of the Burmese military. The Rohingya people, a Muslim ethnic minority, are considered illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and therefore denied citizenship in Myanmar, despite having lived in Rakhine State for centuries.

In September and October 2017, Xchange conducted an extensive survey of Rohingya refugees living in the Bangladeshi region of Cox’s Bazar. Our 2017 report, which you can read here, provides a unique insight into the extent and nature of the violence inflicted upon Rohingya civilians and the dynamics of their gruelling journeys across the border. Last month, we returned to Cox’s Bazar to find out how this displaced community is adjusting to life in refugee camps. Working out of the MOAS Aid Stations in Shamlapur and Unchiprang, we interviewed 1,584 people to produce a snapshot survey of living conditions in the camps, which you can read here in full.

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Over 70% of survey respondents were female, mirroring the gender imbalance in patients visiting the MOAS Aid Stations, which focus primarily on maternal and paediatric care. As our previous report illustrates, men were frequently targeted for execution in Myanmar, leaving women to flee alone or with children – though only after facing other types of targeted violence, including sexual abuse and brutal infanticides. Corroborating our previous findings, nearly one fifth of female respondents were widowed, compared to 4% of males.

88% of respondents had arrived in Bangladesh after August 2017, while 12% had fled earlier (and lesser known) outbreaks of violence during the 1990s and early 2000s. Almost all respondents held a Myanmar National Registration Card issued by the Bangladeshi government, marking a major development since October: most of the people we interviewed last year had no ID, either because they had never been able to obtain documents in Myanmar or because their ID had been confiscated and destroyed whilst fleeing the country.

When asked about the number of people in their home, it was mostly female respondents who said they live in households of four people or fewer; on the other hand, the majority of male respondents said they live in households of five people of more. Given the vulnerability of female refugees to forced marriage, trafficking and exploitation, this gap could indicate a preference on the part of women and girls for living with a trusted male, where possible. Three quarters of respondents said the head of their household is a man, indicating widespread adherence to traditional gender roles. It is also worth noting there is no appreciable difference in household numbers between refugees who arrived before August 2017 and those who arrived after, indicating that the organisation and structure of households has remained similar over the last three decades.

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77% of respondents said they have children aged between 3 and 17, many of whom have no access to education. When asked why their children do not attend school, respondents mostly answered that they need to work, in the case of boys, or that they are considered too old, in the case of girls. Most respondents also said they are currently looking for employment, with many families struggling to survive on food aid alone. On a day-to-day basis, Rohingya refugees are primarily occupied with collecting firewood, food and water (the most common occupations in Shamlapur) or dealing with household chores such as cooking and cleaning (most common in Unchiprang).

With the rainy season due to start this month, the fragile balance achieved thus far by Rohingya refugee communities is likely to be gravely disrupted. Cyclones and monsoons are expected to cause floods and landslides which could result in extensive and life-threatening devastation.

For more information on our ongoing research, sign up to the Xchange newsletter via our website or follow us on Twitter. You can also follow MOAS on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram for live updates on the situation in Bangladesh. To support MOAS’ cyclone and monsoon appeal, please make a donation here.