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Rohingya Refugee Crisis

The Rohingya people are one of the most persecuted minority groups in the world. Find out how we are helping.

A massive exodus of over 745,000 Rohingya refugees have fled Myanmar since 25 August 2017.

In that month, a concerted campaign of violence was unleashed by the Myanmar authorities against Rohingya people in the country’s Rakhine State. By the end of the year, more than 660,000 people had crossed the border into Bangladesh.

"The military came to our part of town around 6pm and said: ‘Leave the village before 8am tomorrow. Every one that stays will be killed.’"

61-year-old msf patientread more

Those arriving in Bangladesh have shared stories with Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) about their villages being systematically raided and burnt by the Myanmar military.

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Mob groups targeted the Rohingya and women and children were being raped and killed.

It is one of the largest displacements of people in recent memory, in such a short period of time.

Latest story: Two years on, the Rohingya are "suspended in time" >

rohingya crisis quick guide

Who are the Rohingya?

The Rohingya are a stateless ethnic group who have lived for centuries in northeast Myanmar, also known as Burma. They are one of the most persecuted minorities in the world. Due to ongoing violence and persecution, hundreds of thousands of Rohingya have fled to neighbouring countries either by land or boat over the course of many decades. Read more >

The current situation in Bangladesh

Since 25 August 2017, over 745,000 Rohingya refugees have fled from Myanmar into Bangladesh. Their arrival comes on top of hundreds of thousands of other Rohingya who arrived in previous years and were already living in difficult conditions. Read more >

What is MSF doing to help?

More than 2,000 MSF staff – the majority of whom are Bangladeshi nationals – are working in 10 health posts, primary health centres and inpatient facilities in the Cox's Bazar region of Bangladesh. More than 1.3 million patients have been treated at MSF facilities since 25 August 2017. Read more >

Who are the Rohingya?

The Rohingya are a stateless ethnic group, the majority of whom are Muslim, who have lived for centuries in the majority Buddhist Myanmar (also known as Burma).

However, Myanmar authorities contest this. They claim the Rohingya are Bengali immigrants who came to Myanmar in the 20th Century.

Prior to the military crackdown in August 2017, roughly 1.1 million Rohingya people lived in the South East Asian country.

Described by the United Nations in 2013 as one of the most persecuted minorities in the world, the Rohingya are denied citizenship under Myanmar law.


Nearly all of the Rohingya in Myanmar live in the western coastal state of Rakhine and are not allowed to leave without government permission.

It is one the poorest states in the country with ghetto-like camps in and around the town of Sittwe. The camps were initially built as temporary structures in 2012 but are still being used and are poorly maintained.

There is a lack of basic services and opportunities for the Rohingya in Myanmar, including freedom of movement, healthcare, state education and civil service jobs.

With over 700,000 Rohingya fleeing targeted violence in northern Rakhine, many areas have been depopulated. Yet there are still 550,000 to 600,000 stateless Rohingya across the state.

Find out more about the Rohingya crisis on Everyday Emergency, the MSF podcast


MSF had provided healthcare to all communities in northern Rakhine since 1994.

At the time operations were suspended on 11 August 2017, MSF was operating four primary healthcare clinics in northern Rakhine – three of which were subsequently burnt down – and was providing over 11,000 primary and reproductive healthcare consultations per month as well as emergency transport and assistance for patients requiring hospitalisation.

More than 128,000 Rohingya and Kaman – another Muslim minority group – have been detained in displacement camps in central Rakhine for seven years since widespread violence in 2012. Government steps to “close” the camps – ongoing since 2017 – are only further entrenching segregation.

MSF delivers healthcare in four of these camps, as well as the Muslim ghetto in Sittwe town, Aung Mingalar.

“We don’t have access to Sittwe or Yangon so the only option is to cross the border to Bangladesh. This is a very risky route. If I could take my mother’s body back to my village and have a funeral next to my father I would be very happy. But that is not going to happen due to the situation of my country. If we had been able to see a specialist here, we wouldn’t have had to go to Bangladesh.”

Violence and persecution

Due to violence and persecution, hundreds of thousands of Rohingya have fled to neighbouring countries either by land or boat over the course of many decades.

Surveys conducted by MSF in refugee settlements in Bangladesh estimate that at least 9,000 Rohingya died in Myanmar's Rakhine State between 25 August and 24 September 2017. Due to violence, at least 6,500 Rohingya (by the most conservative estimations) are thought to have been killed, including at least 430 children below the age of five.

In October 2016, during a previous outbreak of violence, 60,000 Rohingya were forced to flee to Bangladesh from northern Rakhine state.

International humanitarian organisations are still blocked from accessing and operating in northern Rakhine. The Government of Myanmar has decided to work with only a select group of organisations, such as the Myanmar Red Cross, in providing aid.

We are urging the Myanmar government for unfettered access to Rakhine State to ensure the impartial delivery of aid to those in need.

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The Rohingya's situation in Bangladesh

Since 25 August 2017, more than 745,000 Rohingya refugees have fled from Myanmar into Bangladesh.

Their arrival comes on top of more than 200,000 other Rohingya who arrived in previous years. Combined with this existing population, more than 912,000 Rohingya refugees are now in Bangladesh.

Most Rohingya now live in precarious and overcrowded refugee camps prone to mudslides and flooding. Living conditions for the refugees need to be massively improved with a particular focus on improvements to water and sanitation, shelter and reducing population density.

In current conditions, the risk of people falling ill or being injured is high.

The largest refugee camp in the world

The number of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh (912,000) is more than twice the population of Malta and more people than the entire population of Amsterdam.

Of this figure, more than 626,000 people live in the Kutupalong-Bulukhali "mega camp" – making it the largest refugee camp in the world. The Nayapara camp, further south, is home to more than 100,000 people.

The absence of roads into these huge and densely populated camps means that aid is still not reaching everyone, while the conditions in makeshift settlements remain extremely precarious and hazardous, putting people at further risk.

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What is MSF doing to help?


Since 1985, MSF has been present in Bangladesh in both the capital Dhaka and Cox’s Bazar, the coastal border town with Myanmar.

With this recent and unprecedented influx of people crossing over the border into Bangladesh, we have been forced to massively increase our capacity to respond, launching additional emergency projects in Cox’s Bazar.

In the first six months of the crisis alone, we treated more than 350,000 patients.

As of 30 June 2019:

  • Health facilities: 10 health facilities, including three hospitals, four primary healthcare centres
  • Staff: More than 2,000 MSF staff, the majority Bangladeshi nationals
  • Patients: Our teams have carried out over 1.3 million consultations and admitted more than 24,000 patients
  • Health issues: Respiratory infections, diarrhoeal diseases, skin diseases – all related to poor living conditions
  • Other activities: Water and sanitation, mental health and outreach services.

Diphtheria: We have treated more than 7,000 people for diphtheria in the Cox’s Bazar district as of the end June 2019, most of them aged between five and 14 years.

Measles: Between September 2017 and the end of April 2018, we saw 5,000 suspected cases of measles across all the MSF health facilities.

Maternity: We have delivered more than 3,200 babies at MSF facilities in the area.

Mental health: Over 31,500 individual mental health consultations have been provided by our staff to patients in need.

Sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV): We have treated over 1,000 survivors of SGBV, with patients aged between nine and 50 years old. However, the real figure of SGBV survivors is impossible to determine as it is likely only a fraction of cases are reported or treated.


We have been working in Rakhine State since 1994 and currently run primary healthcare mobile clinics and support emergency referrals in both central and northern Rakhine. We also run projects in five other States/Regions across Myanmar.


Malaysia hosts an estimated 95,110 Rohingya who are denied formal legal status. The Rohingya remain in limbo in Malaysia, where they have been fleeing to over the past 30 years.

There, lack of legal status pushes them and other refugee and asylum seekers into an increasingly precarious situation. Unable to work legally, they often disappear into Malaysia’s urban black market economy, where they are vulnerable to exploitation, debt bondage or work accidents. Walking down the street or even seeking medical care can result in refugees being sent to detention centres or extorted.

Last updated: 16 September 2019

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