By Yuri Prasad
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2855

Cyclone kills but West won’t support Rohingya refugees

Next month, the United Nations will cut the food rations by nearly 20 percent despite the deadly cyclone
Issue 2855
Rohingya people at the Kutupalong refugee camp

Rohingya people at the Kutupalong refugee camp in Bangladesh, October 2017 (Picture: Tasnim News Agency)

Rohingya people trapped in the world’s largest refugee camp in south east Bangladesh must this week be asking why their suffering ranks so low on the West’s human rights barometer.

Racism, poverty and climate change have ruined their lives. Yet for them, there is no influx of international support, no waving of flags at Eurovision, and no celebrity endorsement for a charity effort.

As Cyclone Mocha crashed ashore in Bangladesh and Myanmar this week, it tore the roofs off homes and laid waste to entire villages. The storm is one of the most ­powerful to have ever hit the region and created a 3.5-metre tidal surge that now floods the streets in the low-lying regions.

Winds of up to 155 miles per hour have already torn through the small fishing communities on the scattered islands around the coastline. The terrible conditions also threaten to destroy the giant Kutupalong refugee camp in south east Bangladesh that is home to nearly a million Rohingya people.

Rohingya Muslims fled Myanmar in 2017 as the military burnt, ­tortured and raped their way through the west of the country as part of an ethnic cleansing mission. Civilian prime minister Aung San Suu Kyi supported her troops.

Seeking sanctuary, the Rohingya crossed the border into Bangladesh only to find themselves vilified and imprisoned in camps far from the towns and cities where most people live. Not allowed to work, the refugees survive on the limited charity of the United Nations (UN). And that funding relies on money from states that can withdraw or refuse it at any time.

They now live in some of the worst conditions imaginable, yet their lives are set to get even worse. The Bangladeshi government bans them from ­leaving their camp even in a ­desperate emergency. 

So thousands now pack into storm relief ­centres hoping to survive the winds and flooding. These buildings, which are ­ordinarily schools and health centres, are barely more secure than the bamboo and tarpaulin huts they are trying to flee from. And there are nowhere near enough of them to accommodate everyone. 

The sky outside rains down sheets of water and flying debris. Without shelter many will surely die but who will do the counting remains an open question.

For the rulers of the West, the climate catastrophe, ethnic ­cleansing and the tragedy of the Rohingya people generate only the occasional crocodile tear. Only if they occupied a strategic position in the battles between East and West could the Rohingya expect anyone in power to take up their cause.

‘All ages are malnourished’

Next month, the United Nations will cut the food rations for the refugees in the camps by nearly 20 percent. It says it cannot afford to keep up its commitment because governments around the world won’t pay their share.

Already malnutrition and hunger stalk the inhabitants. Some 40 percent of Rohingya children suffer from stunted growth. And some 51 percent of them are anaemic, meaning even common viruses may easily kill them.

The diseases that spread after “natural disasters” such as these will likely raise the death toll far higher.

“The Rohingya are somehow surviving with just our skin and our soul,” said Habib Ullah, a Rohingya teacher and activist in the camp. “I see thousands and thousands of people starving every day. Not only children, but people of all ages are malnourished due to insufficient food.”

Sign up for our daily email update ‘Breakfast in Red’

Latest News

Make a donation to Socialist Worker

Help fund the resistance