Rohingya hopelessness is fueling violence in refugee camps


Dr. Azeem ibrahim :
Despite escaping a genocide, the Rohingya refugees living in camps in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, continue to face violence and insecurity. In recent months, there have been reports of increasing tensions and clashes between different groups within the camps, as well as incidents of robbery and sexual assault.

Violence in Rohingya refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar is becoming much more frequent, from clashes erupting over a dispute about the distribution of aid to stabbing incidents in the Nayapara refugee camp stemming from a dispute between two groups over the use of a common water pump.

The Rohingya crisis is a complex issue that requires a multifaceted approach to address. However, one critical aspect that often is overlooked is the need to address the underlying issues that have caused the crisis in the first place, which for the Rohingya remain unchanged, even if they no longer face immediate violence from the Myanmar military. These issues include poverty, lack of access to resources and limited opportunities for education and employment.

Hopelessness can be a major driver of violence, especially in situations where people feel trapped and powerless to improve their circumstances. When people feel that they have no control over their lives or their future, it can lead to feelings of frustration, anger and despair. These negative emotions can then manifest themselves in violent behavior as a way for people to express these feelings or try to assert some control over their situation.

In the context of the Rohingya refugee crisis, the sense of hopelessness and despair among the refugees is palpable. Many have been forced to flee their homes due to violence and persecution in Myanmar and have spent years living in overcrowded and under-resourced camps in Cox’s Bazar. They are unable to return to their homes or build a future for themselves and many feel like they are in a state of limbo with no end in sight.

This sense of hopelessness can contribute to tensions within the camps, as people compete for limited resources and struggle to maintain their dignity and sense of self-worth. It can also make them vulnerable to extremist ideologies or criminal behavior, as they seek ways to exert control over their lives or find a sense of purpose.

To address the issue of violence in Rohingya refugee camps, it is essential to address the underlying causes of hopelessness and despair. This means providing access to education, healthcare and livelihood opportunities that can give refugees a sense of agency and control over their lives. It also means working toward both short-term and long-term solutions in consultation with the Rohingya themselves to ensure the protection and well-being of all refugees.


One way to address poverty and the lack of access to resources is for the government of Bangladesh, with support from the international community, to provide vocational training and employment opportunities. This could help the Rohingya people to become self-reliant and able to provide for themselves and their families. Providing access to education is also essential, as it can help break the cycle of poverty and empower individuals to take control of their own lives.
In addition to addressing poverty and the lack of access to resources, it is also important to address the negative perception of the Rohingya people, which has been steadily increasing in Bangladesh despite the immense generosity of the host country when it absorbed such a large number of refugees in the first place. This requires a long-term effort to change attitudes and promote tolerance and acceptance within Bangladesh as a whole.
If the Rohingya can pay for themselves and make a positive contribution to their host country, this will likely change perceptions quite swiftly. The people of Bangladesh are among the most generous and friendly I personally have encountered and have been unfairly bearing this responsibility all alone for too long. It is understandable that they are feeling fatigued in supporting more than 1 million refugees the world seems to have forgotten.

Finally, addressing the root causes of the Rohingya crisis requires a commitment to a peaceful and sustainable solution. This means engaging all stakeholders in the process, including the Rohingya people themselves, and working toward a solution that is acceptable to all parties involved. This is why the New Lines Institute is launching the Global Rohingya Initiative, a coordinated international effort to address this crisis in a more universal and inventive way, crafted in cooperation with, and centered entirely on, the needs and aspirations of the Rohingya themselves.

The initiative aims to address three crucial issues to help maintain the Rohingya as a cohesive cultural group: policy and politics, humanitarian concerns, and accountability. In terms of policy and politics, the initiative intends to investigate the deep-seated political problems within Myanmar’s civic and political structure that have resulted in the marginalization and violent exclusion of the Rohingya people. The goal is to assist the Rohingya in developing practical solutions and to address the lack of effective policy and political mechanisms from the international community to support them.

The humanitarian focus will tackle resettlement, integration and long-term plans for the return of Rohingya refugees to their ancestral homeland in Myanmar. The initiative will examine the necessary conditions for a secure, voluntary and sustainable return to their native Rakhine state in western Myanmar and how the international community can aid these efforts. The obstacles to the eventual return of the Rohingya must be studied in detail, and solutions systematically developed and implemented, even if this process takes time.

The main objective of the international community with regard to the Rohingyas’ plight should be to provide them with the necessary tools and resources to take control of their own destiny. It is no longer justifiable for others to speak on their behalf. The Rohingya need to be empowered to express themselves, represent themselves and find solutions to their problems in the way that suits them best. The ultimate goal is for the Rohingya to communicate directly with the international community and pursue their aspirations.

Rohingya community leaders are obviously much better placed to understand the myriad complex problems facing their own people in exile, and a partnership between such community leaders and the major stakeholders in the aid effort is the only realistic way to effectively tackle at least some of the existential threats the Rohingya face.

(The writer is is director of special initiatives at the New Lines Institute for Strategy and Policy in Washington, DC, and the author of “The Rohingyas: Inside Myanmar’s Genocide” (Hurst, 2017. Courtesy: Arab News).