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Rohingya Refugee Camps Prove Impossibly Challenging for Adolescent Girls

The Rohingya, an ethnic minority in Myanmar, have been fleeing the country since the 1970s following discrimination from their government which refuses to recognize their citizenship. Myanmar, also known as Burma, is a predominantly Buddhist country and views the Rohingya, who are predominantly Muslim, as immigrants from Bangladesh. They even chose not to include the group in their 2014 census.

There have also been reports of communal violence against the Rohingyas. In the most recent outbreak of violence, following an attack made by Rohingya militants, government troops began burning down Rohingya villages and killing civilians. According to Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), at least 6,700 Rohingyas, including at least 730 children under the age of five, were killed in the month after the violence broke out.

With the hostility in Myanmar, many are being forced to flee their home country and make difficult escapes. The UN has reported that the Rohingya crisis is the “world’s fastest growing refugee crisis.Refugee camps in Bangladesh are growing rapidly and it’s estimated that as of April 2018, 781,000 refugees were living in established settlements and around 117,000 individuals living in the outskirts of these areas.

Recent reports by Plan International have shown just how difficult the living conditions in these refugee camps are, especially for adolescent girls who are reportedly often forced by their parents to stay inside. Plan interviewed 300 girls between ages 10 and 19 living outside Cox’s Bazaar. The girls describe the refugee camps as sweltering and stifling. One reported that she “cannot go outside. [She has] always to stay in the house and the heat.”

Reports show that many adolescent girls are crammed into tiny huts that measure only a few square feet with temperatures reaching close to 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit).

Orla Murphy, Plan International’s country director in Bangladesh, said that adolescent girls are “one of the greatest victims in this humanitarian crisis.

She went on to say, “The cramped and overcrowded conditions not only in the camps, but also inside the tiny tents they now call home are having a devastating impact on their lives.”

75 percent of the girls who were interviewed reported having no ability to make decisions about their lives. With this severe limitation, these individuals have zero access to healthcare, education, social skills, and countless other necessary skills to restart their lives. Many are at risk of depression, forced marriage, disease, and early pregnancy.

Receiving an education has been a particularly difficult challenge for many girls. A 14-year-old told Plan that she wanted to be educated, but it was just not an option.

“This is the biggest interruption/barrier in my life,” she said. “I have a desire to establish myself by studying.”

Only 28 percent of girls surveyed reported having attended any type of schooling. Some of the main reasons cited were “few female teachers, language issues, security concerns, care responsibilities and household duties, negative attitudes towards girls’ education and, in particular, limited freedom of movement.”

Living in these conditions has also had a huge negative effect on mental health for adolescent girls in the area. Many have witnessed brutal acts and have no way to cope with the way those experiences have affected them and their mental health. Plan stated that girls need funding for girl-friendly information, including resources on reproduction health and rights, as well as mental health.

With this research, Plan hopes to bring light to the heartbreaking and “prison-like” conditions that adolescent Rohingya girls are facing in these refugee camps.

Featured Image by Mitch Lensink on Unsplash

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