Humanitarian crises monitoring: the Rohingya Contents


Predecessor committee inquiry

1.In October 2017, our predecessor International Development Committee launched a wide-ranging inquiry into DFID’s work in Bangladesh and Burma and the UK’s response to the Rohingya crisis. To inform the inquiry, the Committee visited Bangladesh in March 2018, and went to the Rohingya camps in Cox’s Bazar District, to see for themselves the conditions there. The Committee was denied visas to visit Myanmar. The Committee eventually published three reports relating to that inquiry:

2.Throughout the inquiry, our predecessor Committee heard concerns raised about discrimination, human rights abuses and outright atrocities committed against the Rohingya in Myanmar, preventing their safe and dignified repatriation from Cox’s Bazar. The Committee received compelling evidence arguing for various measures to improve the living conditions in the camps in Cox’s Bazar, as it became clear this would be a protracted crisis.

3.The previous Committee followed-up on this work with an evidence session in September 2018, with representatives from Save the Children, the Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK, and Rt Hon Alistair Burt MP, Minister of State for International Development and Minister of State for the Middle East at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The Committee also exchanged correspondence with the Secretary of State for International Development, and the Myanmar Ambassador to the UK, as part of monitoring developments.2 Further work was planned, but events during the latter half of 2019 combined to frustrate further evidence-taking.

The inquiry’s approach

4.We had made arrangements to hold a public oral evidence session, on 24 March 2020, to follow-up once again on the Rohingya crisis. In the event, due to restrictions imposed to combat the spread of Covid-19, the planned hearing was not able to take place and arrangements for online proceedings were not yet authorised. Instead of an oral evidence session, we undertook an exchange of written ‘Q&As’ with various witnesses. This approach was aimed at updating the Committee on the latest developments and current conditions in the Rohingya situation, in particular in the camps in Cox’s Bazar and for the Rohingya still living in Rakhine State in Myanmar.

5.This Report sets out the key points raised to us during this process about the ongoing issues the Rohingya face, and their long-term prospects. These matters now include concerns around measures to limit any further spread of Covid-19 into and across the Rohingya settlements, as well as the impacts of coronavirus infections inside the camps. The situation is dynamic, developing and changing constantly. Hence, the Report incorporates some recent issues which were not covered in our written exchanges but which potentially have a significant impact on the Rohingya, the community settings in which they live and the humanitarian actors working in the district.

6.This Report will refer to the country that was formally known as Burma, by the name, Myanmar, which is in line with recent Foreign and Commonwealth Office practice.3


7.In August 2017, Myanmar military and security forces undertook a series of brutal ‘security operations’4 in Rakhine State following reported attacks on police outposts by an armed group called the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA). The violence carried out and orchestrated by Myanmar forces caused over 700,000 Rohingya to flee across the border into Bangladesh and settle in the Cox’s Bazar District. They joined Rohingya who had fled during previous waves of violence in Rakhine State and it is estimated there are now around 855,000 Rohingya living in camps in Cox’s Bazar, with further displaced Rohingya living in the local area.

8.The Myanmar military continues to face accusations of crimes against humanity. Conflicts between the military and ethnic armed groups in Myanmar have intensified in recent months. Currently, a safe and dignified return for the Rohingya remains an impossibility.

9.The Government of Bangladesh must be commended for the open border policy that allowed the Rohingya to escape violence and persecution in Myanmar and settle in Cox’s Bazar. However, the Rohingya living in these camps face numerous restrictions relating to their legal status, rights and freedoms and continue to endure highly congested and poor living conditions.

10.There have been improvements in the Rohingya’s camps, for example to infrastructure and drainage, since their creation. Equally, NGOs operating in the area have consistently reported the same long-standing issues—such as lack of access to adequate nutrition, educational provision, water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) facilities and very uncertain legal status, rights and freedoms (previously raised when our predecessor Committee last took evidence on the crisis in September 2018).5 Furthermore, recent actions taken by the Bangladesh authorities in the name of security, such as preventing access to mobile internet, and the construction of fences around the camps, limit the Rohingya’s freedom of movement, ability to communicate and access to information.

11.The situation is now being severely impacted by the coronavirus pandemic and restrictions put in place to prevent the spread of the disease.

12.The UK has committed £256 million to the humanitarian response in Bangladesh since August 2017, making it the second largest donor to the crisis.6 It is providing support to the Rohingya and host communities in the region through programming that includes: health services and nutrition, access to education, clean water and sanitation, livelihood support and gender-based violence (GBV) services.7

Aid worker safety

13.In addition to ensuring that aid beneficiaries receive the services they need, the safety and wellbeing of aid workers is also a priority of this Committee. Our predecessor International Development Committee undertook an inquiry into tackling violence against aid workers which emphasised the duty of care owed to agency personnel and delivery partners.8

14.The importance of ensuring the physical protection of humanitarian staff was highlighted by the recent death of Pyae Sone Win Maung, a World Health Organization driver. He was collecting Covid-19 monitoring samples in a well-marked United Nations vehicle when it was hit by gunfire in Rakhine State.9 During the current pandemic, it is also vital that charities and NGOs ensure that all their staff who work in these challenging circumstances receive the support, and access to health services, they need.

15.Aid sector specialist media outlet, Devex, reported on the disparities that exist between the treatment of international and local staff working on humanitarian responses. The article cites an employee of an international NGO operating in Cox’s Bazar. As the scale of the Covid-19 pandemic became apparent, she requested to return home. In mid-March her employer paid for a last-minute flight to the United States. This contrasts with Bangladeshi staff working for the same agency who were told that if they wanted to return to their hometowns, they would have to make their own arrangements and cover the cost of travel themselves. If they stayed to work in the camps and fell ill, they were instructed to call a government hotline to find out what healthcare was available to them.10

16.Many aid agencies are putting measures in place to secure their programmes and protect their staff amid the pandemic. Where possible, some organisations are training and equipping their staff to work from home and providing psychosocial support. NGO officials told Devex that they try to introduce policies that emphasize equality, not distinctions, between staff.11 The evidence we received was clear about the need for all organisations adopt this approach to protect all their staff during the pandemic and to ensure they had access to the healthcare they need.

1 International Development Committee, DFID’s work on Bangladesh, Burma and the Rohingya Crisis, inquiry page

2 International Development Committee oral evidence: Bangladesh, Burma and the Rohingya crisis follow-up, 12 September 2018

3 Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Foreign travel advice, Myanmar (Burma)

5 International Development Committee oral evidence: Bangladesh, Burma and the Rohingya crisis follow-up, 12 September 2018

7 Ibid

8 International Development Committee, Violence against aid workers, inquiry page

11 Ibid

Published: 22 May 2020