Why won’t the world spur into action to protect hundreds of thousands of Rohingya children at risk?

The world was shaken when the Syrian toddler Aylan Kurdi’s body washed ashore on the Mediterranean Sea – it spurred outrage and massive criticism for inaction on the Syrian refugee crises.

Unlike Aylan Kurdi, hundreds of Rohingya children were seen drowning in Teknaf River at Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh. Escaping disastrous violence, these helpless children had no way to reach safety, many of them died when overloaded boats toppled and drowned in the sea.

After Syria, yet another potentitally “worst-ever humanitarian crisis” is developing in Rakhine state in Myanmar, which has already resulted in tens of thousands of Rohingya internally displaced, and tens of thousands who have fled to Bangladesh.

This is indeed a humanitarian disaster and a major exodus of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims – where at least 60 percent are children.

The discrimination and deprivation of the Rohingya started right after British colonialism formally ended in the region in 1948. Thereafter, Rohingya were declared to be Bengali “immigrants” and have been denied citizenship since 1982. The United Nations has declared the Rohingya as the world’s most persecuted minority.

On of the most unfortunate aspects of this crisis is that the Rohingya are one of the least accepted refugees in the world. In comparison to the acceptance of Syrian refugees in European countries, the Middle East and North America, in South Asia, no country warmly accepts Rohingya refugees – except the poorest nation of the region, Bangladesh.

The legal framework of the international refugee protection system, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948 and the Refugee Convention of 1951 has specifically addressed the needs of refugees. The basic rights of refugees are protected under this legal framework, and states have to protect the rights of refugee children and provide humanitarian assistance under article 22 of the Convention on the Rights of the Children.

The Rohingya have been facing discrimination for decades, and the crisis turned violent after 2015. This is one of the worst-ever human rights catastrophes and mass exoduses in the Indian Subcontinent.

It is obvious no country has a specific interest in Rakhine state, except Myanmar, and this decades long ethnic conflict has failed to seize the world’s attention.

However, social media has played a vital role in bringing the untold stories of the most persecuted minority to the world at large. Finally, two months before the United Nations General Assembly in 2017, the international community woke up and raised concerns about the mass migration of the Rohingya community to Bangladesh.

This is not a conflict over power or land between government and non-state actors, but here the story is simply about demanding basic fundamental rights that the other 135 other ethnic groups enjoy in Myanmar.

Forcefully dragged out from Rakhine state, Rohingya have no place to live and nowhere to go. The only thing left for Rohingyas is hope; they need us to get them out of this.

The conflict is purely ethnic, which needs to be handled and understood in humanitarian terms. The most worrying factor in the crisis is their dependency on a poor nation like Bangladesh.

The international community can not turn away, and humanitarian assistance has to be ensured from every aid agency, which is a legitimate demand under international humanitarian law.

Children are the most vulnerable in any armed conflict; the primary and most common threats facing internally displaced children are health care, education, sexual abuse, trafficking, maiming, killing and psychological trauma which remains even once the children have reached safety.

UNICEF has identified that 1,800 children—Bangladeshi officials say the number is closer to 6,000—have fled Myanmar without their parents. The World food Programme says nearly 80,000 children need treatment for acute malnutrition. This is an immediate impact of vulnerability; we can only imagine how long Rohingya children will have suffer through this catastrophe.

I could not control my emotions when I saw the horrifying pictures of unclothed children in Cox’s Bazar Bangladesh. I have been working with marginalised children for years and I can feel the trauma and stress these Rohingya children are going through.

Based on my experience working with marginalised children this is the worst situation I have ever seen. The exposure to violence and insecurity will have severe psychological impact on their cognitive development.

I grew up in conflict-ridden Kashmir, which gives me a clear picture of how conflict and violence can burn an image in a children’s mind and can lead to prolonged psychological effects among children.

A holistic and comprehensive approach is needed to respond to the Rohingya refugee crises.  Humanitarian aid agencies need to work at the grassroots level to address acutely malnourished children, provide safe drinking water, food, medicines and most importantly education.

During emergencies, education can help children to overcome stress and trauma and make them resilient by involving them in different child-friendly activities.

Humanitarian aid workers need to work tirelessly for the most vulnerable of the Rohingya and prevent them from becoming a lost generation.

The International community needs to intervene with assistance and encourage aid agencies to dedicately step in with a strong mandate to provide humanitarian assistance for this prosecuted minority.

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