A United Nations (UN)-led conference last week ended with 36 member states pledging $360 million to the Rohingya of Myanmar. This commitment aims to address the escalating ethnic violence in the country.
In the past two months, over 600,000 Muslim Rohingya from the Rakhine province have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh. The Myanmar Army has been responsible for killing and raping unarmed Rohingya and burning their villages.
As one of the fastest cross-border movements of people in recent history, humanitarian assistance for refugee camps in Bangladesh has been unable to keep up.
Individuals in the camps are entirely dependent on aid. The growing number of refugees within a limited space has led to issues spanning hunger and malnutrition, crime, poor sanitation, and potential disease outbreaks.
Although Bangladesh has been supportive, as a low-income state it does not have the capacity to effectively respond to the sudden influx of refugees.
The UN’s $360-million commitment is a step in the right direction, providing roughly $600 per refugee in the camps. However, it does not account for persecuted persons still in Myanmar and future migrants.
World leaders and human rights experts have advocated that the UN Security Council act to support the Rohingya. To date, only diplomatic means have been used, along with threats to take a harder stance on the matter.
A range of targeted measures are available for use by the international community to address different levels of the crisis, and to ensure higher success rates. Such mechanisms include:
- Deployment of peacekeeping forces to protect vulnerable groups and to curb violence in the region.
- Economic sanctions on Myanmar to give the national military an incentive to end the violence.
- Humanitarian assistance to treat longer-term problems related to food supply, housing, health, sanitation, and security (both in the camps and in Myanmar).
While there has been widespread indignation concerning the treatment of the Rohingya in Myanmar, the issues continue to grow exponentially, and no decisive action has been taken.
The conflict does not show signs of abating. Many Burmese view the Rohingya as outsiders who live in the country illegally. Myanmar and Bangladesh are currently developing a repatriation deal, but the Myanmar government has previously signaled that only Rohingya with official land claims will be allowed to return.
Given the difficulty of mobilizing domestic support to stop the military, the Rohingya will likely reside in refugee camps in Bangladesh for a longer period than anticipated, rendering the current $360-million donor pledge insufficient.