THE BLOG

Mass Exodus Of Rohingya Merits Massive Global Response

The renewed Rohingya crisis is at a watershed moment. How the world chooses to respond will set the course ahead.

09/20/2017 15:44 EDT | Updated 09/20/2017 15:44 EDT
UNHCR/Adam Dean

In protracted crises, the question is often asked, how could this be allowed to happen? How could the world stand by and let conflict escalate to the level that it has reached in places like Syria and South Sudan, where years of fighting continue to threaten the lives of millions of children and with no end in sight?

The renewed Rohingya crisis is at a watershed moment. How the world chooses to respond will set the course ahead. Will we choose to respond with words, speaking out against the violence? Or will we choose to respond with massive action in the form of pressure where it's needed most, and drastically increased humanitarian supplies?

We must condemn the violence to be sure, but we cannot stop there.

UNHCR/Saiful Huq Omi

When violence broke out in Rakhine State, Myanmar, colleagues in the region knew things were about to go from bad to worse. In under a month, more than 400,000 people are estimated to have fled the border into Bangladesh, including nearly 200,000 children and counting, who have been violently ripped from their lives overnight. The stories are heart-wrenching; the photos almost overwhelming.

The majority of people who crossed over are the most vulnerable — women, children and the elderly. And still the numbers continue to rise. The fluid movement makes the tracking of new arrivals challenging, but it's clear they continue to arrive by the thousands.

There are shortages of everything. Humanitarian organizations are responding as best they can, setting up shelter, and trucking emergency water, sanitation and hygiene supplies to Cox's Bazar, where the refugees have already overwhelmed pre-existing refugee camps and the struggle for shelter is severe.

The longer it takes to get these children and their families the immediate aid they need, the higher their risk of contracting waterborne diseases, the higher the risk of traumatized children — the effects of which could last a lifetime — and the higher the risk of this crisis escalating to the point where we look back with shame and regret asking, what could we have done differently?

On Friday, the Government of Canada announced $2.55 million in funding to help address the crisis. Canada has a long history of championing the rights of children and upholding the principles of International Humanitarian Law. It's moments like this that construct our history - and foster our legacy - as a country that actively engages around peace and the protection of human rights.

We all have a role to play in this urgent response. Decision-makers must make the hard decisions they need to stop oppression and persecution, putting pressure where it's needed most. The rest of us can ensure that until that happens, we protect the world's most vulnerable children from harm and fear by providing them with the critical supplies they need to survive. So that one day we are not asking ourselves, what could we have done differently?

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