The statistics from our Rohingya report are sickening

November 2017: Conditions of life for Rohingya children at the refugee camps in Bangladesh are grim. Photo: Mohammad Ghannam/MSF

On August 25, 2017, Myanmar’s military and local militias launched a wave of “clearance operations” in response to attacks by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army in Rakhine state that turned into widespread violence against civilians. Since then, more than 647,000 members of the Rohingya community have fled Myanmar to Bangladesh.

In December 2017, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) released the results of mortality surveys documenting the scope of recent violence against the Rohingya community.

It’s shocking to read.

At least 9,000 members of the ethnic Rohingya minority died — most of them from violence — in Rakhine state, Myanmar, between August 25 and September 24, according to surveys conducted in refugee settlement camps in Bangladesh.

Of the reported deaths, 71.7 percent were caused by violence.

Using the most conservative estimates, at least 6,700 Rohingya are estimated to have been killed, including at least 730 children under the age of five.

“We met and spoke with survivors of violence in Myanmar, who are now sheltering in overcrowded and unsanitary camps in Bangladesh,” said Dr. Sidney Wong, MSF medical director.

“What we uncovered was staggering, both in terms of the numbers of people who reported a family member died as a result of violence and the horrific ways in which they said they were killed or severely injured.”

The numbers of deaths are likely to be an underestimation because we have not surveyed all refugee settlements in Bangladesh and because the surveys don’t account for families that never made it out of Myanmar.

“We heard reports of entire families who perished after they were locked inside their homes and set on fire,” Wong said.

People are still fleeing Myanmar to Bangladesh, and those who manage to cross the border still report being subject to violence over recent weeks.

November 2017: Um Kalsoum’s 18-month-old boy Abdul Hafiz survived. Photo: Mohammad Ghannam/MSF

Um Kalsoum, 23, lost her seven-year-old son Abdul Hamid and her six-year-old daughter Salima in the August 25 killings in the town of Rauthedaung.

Her family was at home when the village was overrun. Overhead, a helicopter hovered, she says, as she points at the sky, imitating the sound of the rotors.

“We heard a lot of screaming and the sound of gunshots in the morning. My son and daughter ran out of the house in the panic, and immediately the soldiers shot them, right in front of our doorstep,” the young mother recalls.

“I screamed their names,” she says, ordering them to go back inside. They did not reply, and she ran out to find them. “But I found the top of Abdul Hamid’s head blown off, and Salima with a bullet through her ear.”

Um Kalsoum remembers screaming, the sound of her voice drowning out the din of the helicopter blades and gunfire.

Her husband grabbed her and their 18-month-old boy Abdul Hafiz, and they rushed into the woods as the helicopter dropped “something” on their wooden house, immediately setting it ablaze.

As they headed towards the Naf River, like many thousands of others that day, they were stopped by an army patrol. “They beat my husband very badly, and stole my wedding ring, which my father had given me when I got married. They slapped me hard across the face,” she said, adding that she has been unable to hear with her right ear since.

“They told us to leave. ‘This is not your country,’ they told me.”

After eight days they made it to the river, but with so many families desperate to cross, it took them three more days to find a fisherman who would take them to Bangladesh in his boat.

October 2017: Rohingya refugees cross the Naf River from Myanmar into Bangladesh. Photos: Moises Saman/Magnum Photos for MSF

Now, despite having lost her two older children, Um Kalsoum is trying her hardest to muster all the energy she has to keep going. After all, she must ensure her baby Abdul Hafiz survives.

But as if the recent months hadn’t already been hard enough for Um, her surviving child has been constantly ill since they arrived in the camp. Nearly every day, she takes him to a clinic operated by MSF, desperate for a cure to his near-constant diarrhea and fever.

Her face gaunt and pale with fright, she looks far older than her age. Like all the other babies in the camp, her son has no diapers. He wears only a red and green cloth wrapped around his head and body.

“I am really sad for him,” she says.

For Mohammad, a member of the Rohingya community, life had always been hard. But on the morning of August 25, it became hell.

“We are safe now, but our tears have not dried yet. We still cry, especially when we remember and talk about what we saw in the village,” he says.

The attacks, he says, are not new. “They started decades ago,” he says. “They (the military and militias) kill, rape, arrest and oppress all the Rohingya in the worst, most sectarian way possible.”

Timeline: Decades of Anguish in an Underreported Crisis

June, 2006. Photo: Greg Constantine

Doctors Without Borders has provided medical aid to the Rohingya in Bangladesh for decades. Their struggles over successive cycles of displacement and persecution have long been an underreported crisis.


Myanmar, the country then known as Burma, launches Operation Dragon King (Naga Min) in Rakhine state. The Rohingya ethnic minority are considered “illegal” after being stripped of their citizenship, thus beginning a cycle of forced displacement.


Operation Dragon King includes mass arrests, persecution, and horrific violence, driving some 200,000 Rohingya across the border to Bangladesh. The neighboring country opens refugee camps, where MSF provides medical aid. But by 1979, most of the Rohingya are repatriated to Burma. Of those remaining in Bangladesh, some 10,000 people die, the majority children, after food rations are cut.

January 1992, Bangladesh. Photo: John Vink


After a military crackdown that follows the suppression of a popular uprising, Burma is renamed Myanmar. The ruling State Law and Order Restoration Council increases its military presence in northern Rakhine state, and the Rohingya are reportedly subject to compulsory labor, forced relocation, rape, summary executions, and torture. Some 250,000 Rohingya flee to Bangladesh.

January 1992, Bangladesh. Photo: John Vink


MSF provides medical services in nine of the 20 refugee camps established for the Rohingya in southwestern Bangladesh. Food, water, and sanitation in the camps are inadequate.

January 1992: The scene at Dumdumia Camp, in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, shows the lack of adequate shelter. Photo: Liba Taylor


Rohingya refugees arrive in Bangladesh, bringing only what they can carry. The governments of Bangladesh and Myanmar sign an agreement to repatriate refugees, and the camps are closed to new arrivals in the spring. By fall, forced repatriation begins, despite protests by the international community. Over the following years, hundreds of thousands of Rohingya are sent back to Myanmar, and new refugees attempting the journey are denied entry to Bangladesh.


Of the 20 camps that were built in Bangladesh in the early ’90s, two remain: Nayapara camp near Teknaf and Kutupalong camp near Ukhia. Living conditions remain dire — a study finds that 58 percent of children and 53 percent of adults are chronically malnourished.


Some 79 percent of the shelters in the two remaining camps in Bangladesh are flooded during the rainy season. The substandard conditions contribute to cases of diarrhea, respiratory infections, and malnutrition. At the MSF therapeutic feeding center serving the makeshift camp near Teknaf, staff take care of an average of 40 severely malnourished children each day.

June 2006. Photo: Greg Constantine


MSF runs a medical facility in Kutupalong makeshift camp in Bangladesh. Only a small percentage of Rohingya seeking refuge in Bangladesh are officially recognized as refugees. Unrecognized Rohingya refugees are vulnerable to harassment and exploitation.

September 2009: Kutupalong makeshift camp. Photos: Juan Carlos Tomasi


MSF’s clinic in Kutupalong makeshift camp provides comprehensive medical care to Rohingya refugees and the local community in Bangladesh. The October 9 Rohingya militant attacks on border police in Myanmar’s Rakhine state trigger reprisals against the Rohingya community, bringing a new wave of refugees across the border and an influx of patients to the MSF clinic in November and December.


Following Rohingya militia attacks on several police and army posts in Myanmar on August 25, state security forces launch a campaign of horrific violence and terror targeting the Rohingya community. Since then, more than 647,000 Rohingya (according to the Inter Sector Coordination Group as of December 12) have fled from Myanmar. The cycle of mass displacement begins again, this time on an unprecedented scale.

Most of the recent arrivals have moved into makeshift settlements without adequate access to shelter, food, clean water, or latrines.

October 2017: Kutupalong. Photos: William Daniels/National Geographic Magazine,
Mohammad Ghannam/MSF, Antonio Faccilongo


Medical facilities in Bangladesh, including those run by MSF, are quickly overwhelmed. In September, MSF calls for an immediate scale-up of humanitarian aid to the Rohingya in Bangladesh to avoid a public health disaster. MSF also urges the government of Myanmar to allow independent humanitarian organizations unfettered access to northern Rakhine state.

“I hope they will not force us to go back to Myanmar, only to be slaughtered again in silence.”

November 2017: Mohammad Ali, a Rohingya refugee, lost his wife and two granddaughters while on their way to Bangladesh. Photo: Mohammad Ghannam/MSF

“We got the news that the army was coming to kill us, so we all prepared ourselves on the last day of (the Muslim feast of) Eid al-Adha on September 4,” says Mohammad Ali, a 60-year-old farmer who left behind land and 25 cows in the district of Sittwe.

Along with some 1,700 other Rohingya, he and his family set out towards the river.

“A few hours later the army attacked our group with knives, swords and rifles. The killing was random and the blood was everywhere. Those too weak to run begged for their lives, but even then they were slain. My two granddaughters — Del Bahar, 10, and Del Nawaz, 15 — and my beloved wife, 58-year-old Rohima, were killed. My wife was shot three times, and she fell to the ground, dead,” says Ali.

He and his eight children survived the attack and eventually made it to the camp. Here, however, conditions are grim. There are no latrines in the area where he and his family have found shelter, and there is no access to clean water.

“I am an old man, and my legs hurt. I don’t have much of a life ahead of me. But I hope my children will live in peace,” Ali says. “I hope they will not force us to go back to Myanmar, only to be slaughtered again in silence.”



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Doctors Without Borders

Doctors Without Borders

Medical aid org working globally to assist people whose survival is threatened by violence, neglect, or catastrophe.