By Alex Pollock

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) recently released a report that 569 Rohingya refugees either died or went missing at sea in 2023. This figure is the highest it’s been since 2014. This number of deaths and missing persons indicates

that one out of every eight Rohingya that risked the boat journey across the Bay of Bengal or the Andaman Sea didn’t reach their destination, making these waters one of the most deadly stretches of sea in the world. Out of the 4,500 people that were recorded on 41 boat journeys in 2023, 66% of them were women and children. In a single event in November 2023, an estimated 200 Rohingya lost their lives when a boat reportedly malfunctioned and sank in the Andaman Sea.

The Rohingya are a Muslim-majority people group who lived primarily in Myanmar before a 2017 military crackdown that forced many of them to flee, primarily to Bangladesh and Indonesia. The Rohingya are not a recognised people group in Myanmar or anywhere else, complicating their situation further. The UNHCR has urged governments of countries hosting the Rohingya to set up safe places for them to stay, however, many host communities have protested their presence. The UNHCR’s Rohingya programme was only 53% funded in 2023, and it is not projected to improve in 2024. Practising a minority sect of Islam, the Rohingya are a minority in many senses of the word. The Rohingya are a people without a homeland, suffering years of persecution and neglect. However, despite this, in the past few years, there have been reports from mission organisations working among the Rohingya that the Gospel is spreading. While evangelising and sharing your faith is prohibited inside many of the official refugee camps housing the Rohingya, one worker was quoted as saying: “The ultimate conclusion [is] Rohingya reaching Rohingya, which needs to be kind of the endgame goal, if you will. Because that’s the only way that the exponential advancement of the Gospel takes place.”

The Joshua Project reports that only 0.05% of the Rohingya are Christian. Their presence is recorded in nine countries, seven of which are non-Christian majority countries. Matthew 24:14 says: “This good news of the kingdom [the gospel] will be preached throughout the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end [of the age] will come” (AMP). The Rohingya are surely a part of this, so as a global Body of believers, we should continue to uplift the Rohingya, as well as those in their host communities, in prayer so that they can encounter the one true God who can give them encouragement and peace amid a turbulent life. From an earthly perspective, the situation for the Rohingya is only expected to get worse. The displaced population of Rohingya people is estimated to grow

to 2.3 million in 2024 and the UNHCR programme is predicted to be far from fully funded. This leaves many gaps in the protection and provision of these people for the local and global Church to fill.

Please join us in prayer for the following:

  • For the protection of and provision for the Rohingya and that they may find hope in their situation.
  • For governments of host countries to treat Rohingya refugees with care, and for the protection of those who choose the perilous sea journey in search of a better life
  • For the Church, both local and global, to step up and show Jesus to those around them who are lost, making disciples as He called His followers to do

Image: REUTERS/Stringer