Rohingya refugees try to take shelter from torrential rain as they are held by the Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) after illegally crossing the border, in Teknaf, Bangladesh, August 31, 2017.
© 2017 Reuters
When I last visited the Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh at year’s end, a new sort of everyday life was taking shape. No longer were countless desperate people milling about by the road, on paddy fields, and in public buildings. Instead, I watched as rows upon rows of shelters made from plastic, tarpaulin, and bamboo were being constructed.
But these rickety structures won’t be able to withstand the storms and heavy rains of the imminent monsoon season. And as dry earth turns to sludge in the coming weeks and months, there will be danger of both mudslides and disease.
A short but severe storm on Monday portends future disaster. Anxious activists began to call us in the afternoon. One sent a video recorded by 18-year-old Shafiq on his cell phone. The storm ripped into about 900 dwellings, some of which essentially fell apart and blew away.
The head of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Myanmar posted a video on Twitter from Maungdaw township, just across the border from the camps, expressing his concerns: “A reminder about the potential impact of the upcoming monsoon.” The United Nations refugee agency said it was accelerating its delivery of sturdier shelter kits, but the challenge is daunting.
The UN Security Council seems unable to act to stave off disaster. This is partly because Myanmar – whose campaign of ethnic cleansing was responsible for the flight of several hundred thousand Rohingya to Bangladesh – have the backing of council members China and Russia. But some other Security Council members – even after visiting the Bangladesh refugee camps a day before the storm – seem to accept the council’s ineffectiveness. “The sad thing is there’s nothing we can do right today that will make their distress any less,” said UK Ambassador Karen Pierce.
But there is something the Security Council can do, and now. It can refer the situation in Myanmar to the International Criminal Court. Not only will that begin the process of finding justice for the Rohingya, but it would pressure Myanmar’s authorities to put in place necessary economic, political, and security guarantees, including protection officers from the UN refugee agency on the ground in Myanmar. These steps will make more likely the prospect that the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh and the Rohingya that remain in Myanmar will be able to one day soon resume their lives in safety and dignity.