Giving play to Rohingya refugee children

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Recent violence in Myanmar has forced an estimated 20,000 Rohingyas–a Muslim minority–to flee into Myanmar. Although this new refugee influx has alarmed the international community, the awful situation of Rohingya refugees is not new at all.

The mass outflow from Myanmar to Bangladesh took place in 1991 and 1992, when more than 250,000 Rohingya refugees fled forced labor, rape, and religious persecution. With the assistance of UNHCR–the UN refugee agency–and non-governmental relief agencies, the Bangladeshi government sheltered refugees in camps in the vicinity of Cox's Bazar in southeastern Bangladesh.

UNHCR says there are currently 200,000 to 500,000 Rohingyas in Bangladesh, of whom only 32,355 are registered and living in two government-run camps. In those camps, people are relying on regular distributions of food rations and relief items such as shelter and clothing. Basic water, sanitation, and health services are provided by the government, UNHCR, and NGOs. Such items are, to some, luxuries to the refugees living outside the camps, and to local villagers in this poverty-stricken country.

Play is a fundamental right

“Imagine growing up in this type of situation,” says Alexey Kruk, regional coordinator of Handicap International’s Growing Together project which works to broaden opportunities for refugee children with disabilities. “Living conditions are extremely hard. Moreover, the children feel like they are redundant and not welcome. As a Rohingya woman recently stated in a local newspaper: ‘No one wants us. It feels like a sin to have been born.’” 

Kruk continues, “We want refugee children to overcome the psychological trauma and regain their dignity and self-confidence through an approach that is really natural to them: play! Play is a fundamental right for every child, yet refugee children are not able to reach their potential because they are being denied their right. That’s why through the Growing Together project, these children will soon have safe playgrounds, where they can just be a child.” 

“Those safe spaces will give the children, through play, the opportunity to share traumatizing experiences with a professional as well as with each other. The playgrounds will be inclusive, meaning that they will be accessible for children with disabilities who are the most likely to be excluded from play,” he concludes. 

Growing Together project

Growing Together is a four-year project in Thailand, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, and is funded by the IKEA Foundation. Handicap International is creating inclusive spaces where children can come together–through play–to work through some of the challenges they face, especially children with disabilities. In addition to inclusive playgrounds, Growing Together will target the youngest children who are at risk of developmental problems. Simultaneously, the program will engage local child development service providers and help them become more responsive to the needs of boys and girls with disabilities and other vulnerable children. Learn more about the partnership.

Handicap International in Bangladesh

Since 1997, Handicap International has worked to advance the rights and social inclusion of people with disabilities in Bangladesh. We are active in physical rehabilitation as well as providing access to quality services and support in isolated areas of the country. Learn more about our work in Bangladesh.