Article by Kayla Chee
It has been just over a year since the beginning of the Rohingya displacement crisis. Since August 2017, Rohingya Muslims living in the Rakhine State of Myanmar have endured the brutal and inhumane ethnic cleansing of their people at the hands of Myanmar security forces. Mass killings, sexual violence, arson, and other humanitarian crimes inflicted by the Rakhine State military have motivated many Rohingya Muslims to escape and seek refuge in neighboring countries. The United Nations estimates close to 900,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled out of Myanmar to nearby Bangladesh.
Bangladesh, a lower-middle income country with existing problems of poor economic development, high population density, and limited access to healthcare, has little to offer the Rohingya Muslims living in these displacement camps of Cox’s Bazaar. The camps’ immense overcrowding and unstable hillside terrain prone to landslides and floods make living conditions dangerous with little access to basic needs. The culminating problems of food insecurity, unsafe shelter, poor water sanitation, limited opportunities for jobs and education, and limited access to basic health care—reproductive and maternal health care included—makes the Rohingya displacement crisis a human rights disaster.
Humanitarian agencies, such as the United Nations Populations Fund (UNFPA), deployed midwives last year to Cox’s Bazaar to help with the overwhelming need for maternal and reproductive health services. These midwives are helping Rohingya women give birth, but are also helping them cope with trauma from gender-based violence and gang-rapes by Myanmar officials. Additionally, UNFPA midwives are providing Rohingya women education, including the benefits of birth spacing, contraception options, and family planning counsel. Rohingya Muslim women are becoming more independent with their choices and becoming an advocate in their own sexual health. This is great news, however more needs to be done.
The UNFPA situation report that came out in June 2018 estimated 316,000 Rohingya women of reproductive age and 63,700 pregnant women living in Cox’s Bazaar. As the Rohingya displacement crisis continues to grow, so does the need for sexual and reproductive health services. Because the Rohingya Muslim rely on entirely humanitarian aid for all services, there just has not been enough funding to fill the gaps. Fortunately, The World Bank announced the approval of up to $480 million towards the Health Sector Support Project to help the Rohingya crisis in Bangladesh, and another $420 million towards private companies in Bangladesh through the IFC. With this funding perhaps reproductive health services will help fill more of the gap that these Rohingya women so desperately need.