The current Rohingya population taking refuge in Bangladesh amounts to over 1 million, with the majority comprising women and children. They are one of the most vulnerable groups of people deprived of basic human rights in the world today.
Subjected to violence and conflict, and unrecognized as citizens of Myanmar, they first began their exodus across the border into Bangladesh in the 70s, then in the 90s and most recently over the past three years. Before August 2017, there were about 300,000 Rohingyas residing in camps in Cox’s Bazar in southern Bangladesh. However, following a new cycle of violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, there began a mass exodus into Bangladesh which was unprecedented by any other seen earlier, exceeding 650,000 as per official estimates. Bangladesh is now considered to be hosting one of the fastest growing refugee crisis in the world.
The Government of Bangladesh, together with national and international partners, has pro‐actively responded to this crisis with a massive humanitarian response, allocating 2,000 acres of land and coordinating and providing critical assistance such as food, nutrition, shelter, water, health & hygiene, and psycho‐social and basic education services to the camps, settlements and host communities.
The challenges are multi‐faceted and go beyond sheer humanitarian need or life‐saving interventions. There are increasing geopolitical tensions, pressures on the domestic economy, growing concerns regarding health, environment and security, diplomatic considerations, and the complexity of repatriation. It is also critical that the focus remains unwaveringly on the preservation of rights and protection of the Rohingya population. It is time to intensify policy advocacy in terms of international human rights law and legal frameworks, to consider the significant economic cost of the crisis, and to deconstruct and highlight critical humanitarian, political, gender and security issues.
An initial national level discussion called ‘Protection and Durable Solution by Global Leaders for Rohingya Refugees’ was organized in November 2017. The International Conference in April was aimed to take this process further, in the interest of preventing further violence and promoting sustainable peace and reconciliation for those affected. Technical sessions covered humanitarian, social, political, legal and economic issues, gender dimensions, protection and rights, and security considerations. Concrete steps were discussed to address the issues of ethnic cleansing/genocide in Myanmar, crimes against humanity, and to leverage international legal instruments to bring justice to the victims.
Participants included government representatives from Bangladesh and other countries, representatives from national and international organizations, including NGOs, CSOs, CBOs, activists and community leaders, national and international academics and experts, and media.
The conference was a two-day event, held daily on Monday and Tuesday, April 2-3, 2018. The venue is Senate Hall, Senate Bhaban, University of Dhaka, Dhaka.
A photography exhibition was held at the venue, providing a visual narrative of the crisis.
The conference was envisaged to bring together diverse and important voices to deepen the discussion on protection and rights for Rohingyas and to raise greater awareness both nationally and internationally with specific recommended measures.