28 September 2017 | Elizabeth J. Rushing
How many internally displaced Rohingya are trapped inside Myanmar?
Despite being one of the most widely covered displacement crises since the end of August, there is a lack of credible estimates of Rohingya internally displaced in Myanmar. Experts at IDMC are working to piece together this puzzle to ensure accurate figures are soon available.
It took a massive outflow of Rohingya Muslims for the world’s attention to re-focus on the in Myanmar. Reports of razed villages and attacks on civilians has prompted the UN Secretary’s General to describe Myanmar’s ongoing military campaign against the minority group as “.”
It is now estimated that more than 606,000 people have fled from Myanmar to escape attacks on their communities in the western state of Rakhine, more than 400,000 of them since late-August alone (see graph below). So, we know the . We also know that a significant proportion of Rohingya as an effect of “scorched earth” tactics used by the military.
Pre-crisis estimates of the Rohingya population place the number of this ethnic minority at roughly , so we deduce that many Rohingya must still be internally displaced within Myanmar, probably in areas close to the border. However, we don’t know how many or in what conditions.
Why we think some Rohingya are still displaced internally
What remains unclear is how many people have escaped Myanmar, and how many are still inside the country. On one hand, we have clear evidence of a displacement “outflow” from the violence along the border: the faces of hundreds of thousands of men, women and children . On the other hand, we have reports that some people .
The magnitude of the cross-border flows to Bangladesh, coupled with reports that many Rohingya are frustrated in their attempts to leave the country, makes it highly likely that significant numbers of Rohingya are internally displaced in Myanmar.
Limited access means piecemeal data
There are many reasons for the lack of credible data on displacement flows in this crisis. For one, humanitarian access is limited, which makes it difficult to verify any information coming out of Rakhine state. The UN is reporting that they which is a strong indication that we need to be cautious about any estimates we see.
There are also very few partner organizations that could independently verify displacement estimates provided by the government, which focuses only on the number of non-Rohingya displaced by the violence. For example, the initial government figure of 26,747 IDPs was picked up by , and . This figure also forms the basis of IDMC’s most recent . Since then, according to media coverage, the government has reported that a total of 30,000 non-Rohingya civilians were displaced by the violence, and that nearly 4,300 of them have . This further highlights the challenge of gathering Rohinga figures, in the absence of any from the government.
What this means for IDMC is twofold: one, there are no independent organizations operating on the ground in Myanmar that can verify the government's reports on non-Rohingya displaced; and two, no one, including the government, is reporting on the number of Rohingya displaced within Rakhine.
No news is not good news
If humanitarian organizations don’t even know how many or where people are, much less the situations in which they are in, it is impossible to tailor an effective response to their needs. The Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council, Jan Egeland has described Rakhine state as a “.” Without full and unimpeded access to the communities affected, however, people in Rakhine state could remain trapped in a dire crisis indefinitely.
This opinion piece, written with support from Marta Lindström, was originally published by the Thomson Reuters Foundation, see the original here.