August 24, 2018

When Min Aung Hlaing, head of the Burmese military, launched his pre-planned military offensive against Rohingya civilians last August, the majority of those he targeted were children.

A new UNICEF report, Futures in the Balance, details the devastating impact on children who fled to Bangladesh. It calls for long term planning to support refugees, as well as action by the international community and government of Burma to address the root causes.

“The refugees cannot and will not agree to return home until the discrimination and violence that they have experienced for decades are ended, until their basic rights — to citizenship, free movement, health, education, and jobs – have been established, and their property restored.”

Children have experienced trauma and loss, and are now confined in camps where conditions are harsh. It is anticipated that donors will provide only half the funding the UN says it needs to support refugees, the majority of whom are children.

With few opportunities to earn money, and no land on which to grow even a few vegetables, they are dependent on aid handouts and their own slender resources. With no end in sight to their bleak exile, despair and hopelessness are growing among the refugees says UNICEF.

Of 381,000 children who arrived in the camps since August last year, only 140,000 are in some kind of education.

The 125,000 Rohingya confined in prison camps in Burma are also losing hope says UNICEF: “You have an overwhelming impression of people suffering … Six years on, people in the camps are starting to lose hope that their lives will ever return to normal. For younger children, confinement is the only reality they have ever known.”

Aung San Suu Kyi kept in place restrictions on the delivery of humanitarian assistance in Rakhine State after she came to power, and these increased significantly in 2018, ahead of the military offensive.

“We need sustained access to all children who are out of reach and unprotected in northern Rakhine – and any child across the state who requires assistance” says UNICEF. 360,000 children – most of them Rohingya — are in need of humanitarian assistance in Rakhine State, according to UNICEF.

UNICEF calls on Aung San Suu Kyi’s government to “Allow unrestricted access for both humanitarian and development organisations to deliver assistance and services for the most vulnerable in all areas of Rakhine state.”

The government of Bangladesh is also diplomatically called on to make the delivery of humanitarian assistance to refugees easier and to recognise their rights.

“Restoring and guaranteeing the rights of these children is an obligation for both Myanmar and Bangladesh as States Parties to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), which requires them to protect the rights of child refugees and asylum seekers, and ensure they receive humanitarian assistance.

“Twelve months on, memories of those experiences remain raw among the roughly one million Rohingya refugees – including many from previous cross-border influxes – who live in cramped and primitive shelters inside the congested and often insanitary camps of Cox’s Bazar.”

There is little sign yet that the international community, which the British government claims to be leading in this crisis, is willing to take the bold and decisive steps needed to address the root causes of this crisis and hold those responsible to account, or even just to provide the aid needed for the children in the camps.

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