One in two Rohingya children who fled to Bangladesh without their parents were orphaned by brutal violence, new research by Save the Children suggests ahead of the one-year anniversary of the crisis on Saturday.
There are currently more than 6,000 unaccompanied and separated Rohingya children living in Cox’s Bazar, where they face crippling food shortages and are at increased risk of exploitation and abuse. Child Protection workers in the area’s camps had previously thought an overwhelming majority of these children had simply lost contact with parents or carers in the chaos of their journey to Bangladesh—but the research suggests otherwise.
The charity’s study, involving 139 unaccompanied and separated Rohingya children, is the largest of its type in Cox’s Bazar since the brutal military crackdown in Myanmar a year ago.
Preliminary findings from the research show:
- Seventy percent of children covered by the study were separated from parents or main carers by violent attacks; 63% of all children in the study were separated during a direct assault on their village, and 9%as their family attempted to flee to Bangladesh.
- Half (50%) said their parents or main carers had been killed in the attacks, leaving them orphaned, with many describing eyewitness scenes of brutal violence.
Save the Children is calling for the perpetrators of these systematic, ruthless and deliberate attacks in Myanmar to be held accountable under international law for their crimes, and for all countries to support initiatives at the UN to bring the perpetrators to justice.
Save the Children’s Country Director in Bangladesh, Mark Pierce, said:
“Twelve months ago, our teams saw children arriving in Bangladesh on their own, so distressed, hungry and exhausted they couldn’t speak. We set up spaces for these children to receive 24-hour support while we searched for their families. One year later, it’s clear that for many, this reunification will never take place.
“These children are some of the most vulnerable on the planet, and they have had to carve out an entirely new existence in the camps, without their mother or father, in an environment where they are far more vulnerable to risks like trafficking, early marriage and other forms of exploitation.
“While our data can’t claim to be representative of all orphaned and separated refugee children in Cox’s Bazar, it paints a frightening picture of a bloody conflict where civilians were targeted and killed in large numbers.
“To ensure aid agencies can continue providing vital support to these children, donors need to fully fund the $950 million Joint Response Plan for 2018, currently just a third funded. We also need to ensure that Rohingya refugee children have access to safe, quality and inclusive learning opportunities while they are displaced, as well as targeted mental health support for the most distressed.”
Save the Children has reached more than 350,000 Rohingya children in Cox’s Bazar in the past 12 months, including a large majority of those who have been orphaned or separated from their parents.
The aid agency has done this by setting up nearly 100 child and girl friendly spaces in the Rohingya refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar, which provide nearly 40,000 children with a safe space to play, recover and be children again, as well as through programmes providing protection, access to education, health and nutrition, food and water and sanitation services.
Among those it supports is 17-year-old Humaira*, who fled to Bangladesh with neighbours from her village after her parents were killed in front of her during the August 2017 attacks.
Her case worker, Rashna Sharmin Keya, said it took her a month, and sessions with a counsellor, before she was able to share her story. But after months of searching, she was finally reunited with her two younger brothers. They now live together, with the responsibility of leading the household resting on Humaira*’s shoulders.
“When I first met her, she didn’t talk so much. There was fear in her heart and she didn’t trust anyone,” Keya said. “She was crying and told me: ‘Everyone died. My whole family was killed in Myanmar. I saw them, I know everyone died. No one is there’.”
Save the Children’s Country Director in Myanmar, Michael McGrath, said:
“It’s been a year since these children had their childhoods ripped away. The world has failed to hold the perpetrators of these barbaric attacks, including the Myanmar military, to account.
“Extraordinary crimes demand an extraordinary response. A credible, impartial, and independent investigation into these crimes and all violations of children’s rights committed in northern Rakhine State is a key first step towards ensuring accountability.
“The international community must step up and find a long-lasting solution to the crisis that allows for the safe, dignified and voluntary repatriation of Rohingya refugees, which respects the basic rights of children and their families and is underpinned by international law.”
For interviews, call Jess Brennan on 0421 334 918