In 2017, more than 700,000 Rohingya fled to Bangladesh to escape the army’s massacre and brutal repression in Rakhine State, Myanmar. Currently, more than 1.2 million Rohingyas are living in various camps in Cox’s Bazar and Bhasanchar in Bangladesh. Since the Rohingyas took refuge in Bangladesh, the United Nations has been providing humanitarian assistance to the Rohingyas under the Joint Response Plan (JRP). The World Food Programme (WFP) has cut food aid to the Rohingya by about 17 percent as donors reduced aid due to the global economic downturn and crisis. The per capita monthly allocation for food for the Rohingyas was $12, which was reduced to $10 from March 1. This aid amount may decrease further in the coming days if no new funds are raised. WFP has sought $1.25 billion in emergency funding from international donors this year for relief assistance. Rohingyas are worried that facilities may be further reduced due to funding shortages.
As food aid decreases, the Rohingyas’ life will become more difficult. As there is no legal system of earning in the camps, a part of the Rohingyas staying in the camps are involved in criminal activities like drug smuggling, kidnapping for ransom, human trafficking and extortion. Currently Rohingya children and women are at high risk of becoming victims of human trafficking which may increase in the coming days. Many Rohingyas are risking their lives trying to cross the sea to Malaysia or Indonesia, which will increase in the future. A reduction in humanitarian aid will increase the likelihood of involvement in these criminal activities, as well as violence and instability in Rohingya camps. Many of the Rohingyas will be busy in various ways in search of livelihood and it will be difficult to keep them inside the camp. If the Rohingyas leave the camp and look for work, it will create a crisis for the locals.
Efforts to promote mutual harmony by bridging the gap between the Rohingya and the locals will be thwarted. In the 2022 JRP, the emphasis was on establishing good relations between the Rohingya and the locals, and it had to be dropped from the priority of this year’s JRP. In 2022, 62 per cent of support came against JRP demand, the lowest in previous years. In 2017, 73 percent of the requirement was financed, 72 percent in 2018, 75 percent in 2019, 65 percent in 2020 and 72 percent of the requirement in 2021. In 2022, humanitarian agencies worked to prevent conflicts between Rohingya and local communities through community protection forums, dialogues and increased communication between armed police battalions. Even with reduced funding, the UN wants to keep projects running cost-effectively without shutting them down. At the same time, the United Nations wants the Rohingyas to be trained and provide their own livelihood through the project to increase their skills.
Due to Covid-19, Russia-Ukraine war, earthquake in Turkey-Syria, above all the ongoing economic recession around the world, developed countries are also in trouble and their relief funds are under increasing pressure. As a result, there is a risk that relief aid will decrease further in the coming days. In this reality, UNHCR will continue its efforts to raise funds and successfully implement its programs in the future with more efficiency and cost effectiveness. The UN has allocated nearly $9 million from its own funds as donor aid to the Rohingya has dwindled. UNHCR, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), UN Women and WFP have started their own aid operations with this money in the Rohingya camps in Cox’s Bazar and Bhasanchar.
UNHCR has called for $876 million this year to meet the humanitarian needs of the Rohingya. The main objective of this plan is to provide food, shelter, healthcare, clean water, security services, education, livelihood opportunities and skill development to the Rohingyas and locals sheltered in Cox’s Bazar and Bhasanchar. It has been informed by UNHCR that the plan of humanitarian activities will be implemented under the leadership of Bangladesh government this year.
More than 75 percent of the Rohingyas are women and children, and this population is at risk of gender-based violence and exploitation, which is increasing day by day. More than half of the Rohingya in the camps are under the age of 18 and their future is uncertain. Decreasing food allocations will lead to further malnutrition, health problems, children dropping out of education, child marriage, child labor and gender-based violence. It is essential to continue humanitarian and financial support to keep life-saving and life-sustaining support going.
The Swedish government announced $7.6 million in aid for the Rohingyas. This grant will provide clean fuel for cooking, environmental improvement in Cox’s Bazar and skills and development work for refugees and local Bangladeshis. After the arrival of the Rohingyas in 2017, a large part of Cox’s Bazar’s forest was destroyed. Currently, the areas surrounding the Rohingya camps are being re-greened and afforested. Sweden has been supporting the program since its inception under the leadership of IOM in 2019. Currently, Sweden and Canada are supporting the program.
South Korea considers that there is no alternative way to solve the Rohingya crisis except for repatriation of the displaced Rohingyas to Myanmar. South Korea has so far provided more than $23 million in aid to the Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar and has said it will continue to provide humanitarian assistance during the ongoing crisis.
Since August 2017, Japan has been supporting Rohingyas in Bangladesh. The Japanese government has decided to provide $5.7 million to IOM to improve the living conditions of the Rohingya and refugee communities in Cox’s Bazar and Bhasan Char, Bangladesh, and to develop shelters. Japan will continue to work for a durable solution, including the early repatriation of the Rohingyas to Myanmar. Japan will continue to cooperate with IOM and other international organizations to ensure a better life for the Rohingyas and the locals, thereby improving the quality of life of both communities. This assistance will ensure better settlement, protection and livelihood opportunities in Cox’s Bazar and Bhasan Char. Through this funding, Japan has provided more than $200 million to IOM and other UN agencies as well as NGOs in Bangladesh. A $4.5 million agreement was signed between the Japanese government and UNHCR on Feb. 22 to continue the necessary protection and humanitarian assistance to the Rohingyas. Japan will continue to cooperate with UNHCR and other service providers for the safe and sustainable return of the Rohingyas and to improve their quality of life.
Japan’s assistance to Bhasanchar will help UNHCR expand its activities on education and livelihood resources for the Rohingya. The grant will train more Rohingya teachers and staff to implement Myanmar’s curriculum and help Rohingya develop vocational and other skills.
The US announces $26 million in new humanitarian aid for the Rohingyas. This money has been allocated for the Rohingyas who fled from Myanmar and took shelter in various countries of the region including Bangladesh. Including this assistance, the total amount of US aid given to the Rohingyas since August 2017 is $2.1 billion.
At the Fifth United Nations Conference on Least Developed Countries, the Prime Minister of Bangladesh expressed her opinion that the Rohingya crisis has become more complicated as the world’s attention has decreased from the Rohingya crisis due to the war in Ukraine. The eyes of the world community are now on the Russia-Ukraine war and the Ukrainian refugees. Although the Rohingya issue is under discussion, there is no progress in solving the problem as Myanmar has not taken any positive steps regarding repatriation.
The condition of the Rohingya camps in Cox’s Bazar is not very good. The Rohingyas are involved in various crimes including drug, weapons, human trafficking, they are also engaged in conflict among themselves. Bangladesh has called on the international community, including G20 leaders, to help speed up the repatriation of Rohingyas to Myanmar. The prolonged stay of the Rohingyas is creating a serious security crisis across the region and they can become a potential target of terrorist groups at any time.
The Rohingyas have been staying in Bangladesh for a long time and the repatriation process is still hopeless. Currently, many of them are getting involved in various types of crimes due to the urge and temptation of livelihood. If humanitarian aid is reduced along with this, it will become an obstacle in the way of meeting basic needs. In this situation, if there is no alternative system, they will naturally seek to fulfill those needs through illegal means which are never desirable. The United States is trying to work with the Bangladesh government to create job opportunities in Rohingya camps. Rohingyas will not need to go outside the camp if they get job opportunities. They will participate in training and other measures to improve their employability and skills.
To address the aforementioned issues, humanitarian and financial aid agencies may need to restructure their operations somewhat. In Cox’s Bazar, the United Nations and other international organizations should take the initiative of local management as much as possible to reduce the administrative costs. These costs can be saved by involving local institutions in Bangladesh. In the current situation, a long-term plan needs to be formulated on an urgent basis to solve the Rohingya problem. Funding for life-saving and life-supporting projects must continue to keep the situation under control. Adequate measures should be taken to ensure the safety of women and children.
Employment generation and training projects should be undertaken and funded to meet the basic needs of the Rohingyas. The situation should be kept under control through communication with Myanmar to prevent violence, drug and arms smuggling. Security of the camp should be strengthened and round-the-clock surveillance should be arranged. Humanitarian assistance must be sustained by establishing contacts with new donors and humanitarian aid agencies. Bangladesh should take measures to provide necessary assistance in the process of Rohingya relocation to Bhasan Char. Finally, the real solution to this problem lies in the rapid repatriation of the Rohingyas to Myanmar, and must be ensured.
[Photo by Seyyed Mahmoud Hosseini \ Wikimedia Commons]
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.
Samina Akhter is a Dhaka-based author and columnist.