"Refugees in the camps want the world to remember that they are human—and that they are still here," says Fred Witteveen, a Canadian currently serving as National Director of World Vision Bangladesh. "Little has improved for them in the past year, and it's unlikely that they will be returning home any time soon. We deeply appreciate and applaud Canada's effective support to date, but much more help is needed to ensure that the rights of refugees are protected, especially children."
Witteveen says that despite the tremendous achievements of NGOs working alongside UN agencies, conditions in the squalid, overcrowded settlements remain dismal. As the UN recently reported, the lack of access to basic services and self-reliance opportunities exposes refugees, especially women and adolescent girls, to protection risks and potentially harmful coping mechanisms such as trafficking, exploitation, child marriage, and drug abuse.
"This refugee crisis that began 12 months ago remains a protection crisis," says Witteveen. "Most children and their families endured brutal violence in Myanmar and now they face ongoing risks as displaced people without citizenship at home or official refugee status in Bangladesh."
Without status, the stateless Rohingya have no official protection. Adults do not have the right to work and children cannot go to school.
"I want to study, but I cannot because I am too old and not eligible for school," says Yajurjanat, a 13-year-old refugee who spends her days sweeping her family's small shelter, fetching water and helping her mother cook. Without education, Yajurjanat and other Rohingya children risk becoming a lost generation.
The UN is warning that Myanmar is not yet conducive for the voluntary, safe, dignified and sustainable return of refugees. There should be no forced repatriations. Until conditions are in place, basic services in the camps must be improved and the rights of children and adults protected, including access to education.
The international community, including the Canadian government, must continue its support for the response and work with the Government of Bangladesh to provide quality, relevant and inclusive education as well as official refugee status.
"Canadians often ask me what they can practically do to help," says Witteveen. "Let your government know that you consider responding to this crisis to be a top priority. As a global leader, Canada can use its influence to ensure that children's protection and education in crises, particularly for girls, is a top priority."
- More than 213,7000 refugees have directly benefitted from World Vision's protection, food, shelter, and water, sanitation and hygiene services.
- Child protection: Some 1,000 children attend World Vision's centres each week, where they can learn, play and recover from the hardships they have endured in a safe environment.
- Water, Hygiene and Sanitation (WASH): World Vision has installed 83 deep-tube wells, providing fresh water to 83,000 people, and constructed 1,544 latrines.
- Shelter: To date, 9,840 families (49,200 people) have received shelter upgrade kits to help strengthen their homes against monsoon rains.
COX'S BAZAR, Bangladesh - One year ago, 700,000 people from Myanmar began pouring over the border into Bangladesh. A wave of violence in Rakhine State following decades of persecution and mass human rights violations sparked the exodus—almost unprecedented in its scale and speed. Today, these families—most of whom are from the Rohingya ethnic group—live in the world's most densely populated refugee camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. More than half the population are children.