A highly visual, data-driven site illustrates the flight of the Rohingya Muslim minority from Rakhine State in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, across the Andaman Sea in search of refuge in Southeast Asia.
Visualizations, audio interviews, images, and interactive maps use geospatial, quantitative, and qualitative data to tell a compelling story about the Rohingya’s plight.
The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and Kontinentalist—a data-driven storytelling studio in Singapore—collaborated to produce a visual, data-driven story about the Rohingya Muslim minority from Rakhine State in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, crossing the Andaman Sea in search of refuge in Southeast Asia. Visualizations, audio interviews, images, and interactive maps use geospatial, quantitative, and qualitative data to tell a compelling story about the Rohingya’s plight throughout their “perilous journeys across the sea.”
Abandoned at Sea: The Desperate Journeys of Rohingya Refugees seeks to drive action by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), other international and regional bodies, and national governments to better safeguard the rights of Rohingya refugees. It further aims to “move readers to learn more about the Rohingya humanitarian crisis and join in collective action towards more inclusive and effective protection for refugees.”
The authors use artistic visualizations, personal accounts, and interactive graphics to tell the Rohingya’s story who were “rendered stateless” in 1982, which limits their ability to travel and settle safely. They highlight several waves of displacement since the 1970s, with many fleeing violence in 2016 and 2017 to settle in refugee camps in Bangladesh.
The story describes the “harsh, cramped” living conditions in refugee camps, without access to basic necessities. Many Rohingya, it explains, leave in refugee vessels headed southeast of the Bangladesh-Myanmar maritime border towards Thailand or Malaysia. These boats, which “have been likened to modern slave ships,” often carry too many passengers for the open seas. They “have gotten lost, faced engine troubles, or run out of food, water, and fuel.” Since January 2020, more than 200 refugees have drowned or gone missing at sea.
The article estimates that at least 500 people were stranded at sea in the first half of 2020 because, in a “game of human ping-pong,” countries in Southeast Asia did not allow them to disembark or pushed their vessels back out to international waters. It warns that, according to UNHCR, “interception and pushback practices by authorities directly or indirectly result in death or refoulement—the forced return of refugees back home to face persecution.”
The authors note that COVID-19 “has made it worse for refugees,” with countries closing their doors on them. In situations where Rohingyas were allowed to disembark, most were detained in camps or quarantine centers. The story emphasizes the significant impacts of detention on children who comprise 36% of survivors from recorded maritime incidents in 2020.
The article also notes Rohingya refugees frequently fall victim to human trafficking, and refugee women and girls “can end up abused and exploited in the local sex trade.”
Yet, the authors warn, Southeast Asian nations do not do enough to implement their international obligations on protecting refugees.
The article calls for a “lasting solution” to the Rohingya crisis as without one, they “will remain vulnerable to state coercion and exploitation wherever they go.” It also suggests ways in which everyone can help, for example by volunteering with a refugee organization or helping refugees get work.
This article was written with support from the UN World Data Forum Secretariat. Read additional SDG Knowledge Hub stories about the UN World Data Forum, data impact, and news.