Statelessness is an issue that has been estimated to affect around 10 million people worldwide. These are people who are not considered a national of any one country due to the way their laws operate. This occurrence can be common for children of migrants or illegal refugees, as well as many groups of people who are forced to leave their country. One of the largest groups of stateless people are the Rohingya population from Myanmar. They are a fast growing group, fleeing primarily to countries such as Bangladesh for safety.
The Rohingya people are a group of people from Myanmar, which is a primarily Buddhist country. They are one of many ethnic minorities in the country, and are primarily Muslim. They have their own language and culture and say they are descendants of Arab traders and other groups who have been in the region for generations. However, the Myanmar government see them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. They do not, of course, have citizenship in Bangladesh, and are therefore stateless. This means that they are denied a variety of rights which can only be obtained by having citizenship. These rights include access to education, to job opportunities, and to government supported funding. The Rohingya people have protested against this treatment, such as attacking police posts, in an attempt to draw attention to their struggle. However, the Myanmar government and military responded with more force, chasing the Rohingya people out of the country with innocent people being killed in the thousands. Many were also raped and abused by the military, including children. They are then forced to flee into other countries. Bangladesh has had a large influx in to their country, but the majority of these people are still considered illegal refugees, and are therefore still stateless, and unable to get the rights that they need to be successful within a society.
The Myanmar government refuses to take responsibility for the violence that has occurred when attempting to rid the country of the Rohingya people, which began in force in 2017. They said that the numbers of people dead was estimated to be around 400, and also claimed that these attempts ended in September of 2017, but there have been many reports that this violence still continues to this day. Now, these refugees are living in makeshift settlements, an attempt to create a camp while searching for food and water. As numbers continue to rise, data becomes increasingly more scarce and difficult to obtain. While there are areas that have dedicated refugee camps, these makeshift settlements that are significantly more limited in resources continue to be necessary to accommodate for large numbers. The way this refugee crisis is viewed by the people who are involved is very one-sided, and does not acknowledge the breadth of experiences that have been happening. The Myanmar government views these people as nothing other than criminals, and treats them as they believe they deserve. It therefore makes it difficult to force the government to make changes and reparations for what they have done.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) are currently running a project in which they aim to end statelessness by 2024, a ten year project that began in 2014. They outline four key components for this, which are identification, prevention, reduction, and protection. An increased political discussion is the most critical part of how these goals can be achieved. The need for prevention and reduction can only be achieved when the governments of these countries make a concentrated effort to reach the goals the UNHCR have set out. The people of Bangladesh are struggling to provide for the ever growing number of refugees that are residing in their country, but there is no safe place for the Rohingya people to go. Myanmar is needing to take responsibility for the suffering they are causing from their lack of recognition of how these lives are being affected and ruined. There are hopes that the refugees are able to make a “safe and dignified return home,” but this cannot occur with the fear of violence that is prominent, and a possible continuation in the attacks that previously exiled them from the country. There is an ongoing project in Bangladesh, involving the people forced to live in refugee camps and settlements, that is attempting to help these people receive citizenship. This documentation will mean that they are able to look for more permanent housing, and sufficiently care for their families. It will also mean they can either continue their education, or start training to learn skills that will help them move into the workforce. Until recently, Bangladesh have been very supportive of these settlements, and are attempting to work to improve that situation these people are living in. However, in March, the government came out and said that they were not able to accept any more refugees. They believe that the numbers they have accepted up to this point have been so significant that they no longer have the resources to continue supporting any more. While Rohingya refugees are scattered throughout Asia, the largest concentration by far is in Bangladesh, meaning that alternatives will have to be sorted out immediately for these people to be able to find a home, no matter how temporary.
Protection is an integral part for the Rohingya people in Bangladesh, as their resources become further limited with growing needs. Part of this protection can come from international aid, which organisations such as the UN Refugee Agency are orchestrating, as well as other charities such as the Mercy Corps. They are in desperate need of items such as food and water, as well as improvements to their shelters, with a high need for lighting and warmth. Monsoon season makes these resources even more necessary for the survival of these refugees. Some charities also aim to increase access to education for the young people who reside in these camps. There is encouragement for the discussion of this crisis to increase among everyday people, as the lack of education of what is happening means the governments involved in causing this are not forced to take responsibility. However, the majority of the work in all aspects of the refugee crisis must be done by the governments. It is not enough for so many smaller organisations, and for individuals in the surrounding areas, to have expectations put on them that they are in charge of protection. Without sufficient policies in place, the suffering of the refugees will continue to happen.
There are a multitude of organisations working towards creating an end to this refugee crisis. As individuals, there is little that can be done, apart from raising awareness of what is happening. When the discussion grows, it will be necessary for governments to begin holding themselves responsible. To create a more peaceful world for these suffering refugees, there must be changes in policy in order to ensure that they have a home that they are able to reside in.
Victoria Scott is a research scholar.
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