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Rohingya refugees face new crisis as funding diminishes, warns UN

27th Oct 2023
Rohingya refugees face new crisis as funding diminishes, warns UN

Elham Asaad Buaras

Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, now face a dire situation as aid funding diminishes, warned a UN spokesman on October 3.

Stéphane Dujarric, senior spokesman for UN Secretary-General António Guterres, said the Rohingya, who have endured multiple climate shocks since their flight from Myanmar seven years ago, are now facing starvation, further exacerbating their vulnerabilities.

According to Dujarric, the World Food Programme reports that donor budget shortages have prompted the organisation to restrict life-saving assistance for the whole Rohingya population in Cox’s Bazar.
Due to funding shortages, the Rohingya’s ration of $12 per person per month was reduced to $10 in March and then to $8 in June.

The World Food Programme said that with the current cash allowance, the Rohingya have less than 9 cents for each meal and “are being pushed over the edge.”

“WFP is urging donors to step up now to support them in restoring full rations and keeping critical humanitarian operations intact until the Rohingya repatriation,” the spokesman told a regular press briefing. “WFP needs another 175 million dollars to provide the Rohingya with a full ration through December 2024.”

The food ration cuts, along with escalating restrictive measures imposed by Bangladesh authorities and violence in the squalid, overcrowded refugee camps, are increasing pressure on the refugees to repatriate. According to Bill Frelick, Director of HRW’s Refugee and Migrant Rights Division, there is precedent for using food handouts to pressure Rohingya refugees to leave.

‘In 1978, the Bangladesh government weaponized food to force starving Rohingya refugees back to Myanmar, which remained intent on persecuting them. Then, as now, the Rohingya refugees were confined to camps in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar area and were not allowed to work, so they depended on food rations to survive.,’ writes Frelick.

A 1979 report by Alan Lindquist, then-head of the UN Refugee Agency’s sub-office in Cox’s Bazar, quoted Bangladesh’s then-secretary of the Ministry of Relief and Rehabilitation, Syed All Khasru, as saying, “It is all very well to have fat, well-fed refugees. But… we are not going to make the refugees so comfortable that they won’t go back to Burma [Myanmar].”

According to the Lindquist report, by December 1978, between 80 and 85 people were dying every day in Bangladesh’s camps. “More and more showed themselves ready to go back to escape the terrible conditions in the Bangladesh camps,” Lindquist wrote.

“From November 15th onwards, at least 2,000 were returning every three days, the maximum rate specified in the July [1978] agreement between the two countries.”

By the end of March 1979, over 107,000 Rohingya had returned to Myanmar, with over 11,900 having died. Frelick warned that “this time around, the World Food Programme, facing donor shortfalls, is making the cuts. International donors, no less than Bangladesh, have a responsibility not to repeat history.

Myanmar is far from safe for Rohingya. Bangladesh should also ease restrictions and allow refugees to earn money to buy food to help prevent another horrible death toll.”

Photo: Stéphane Dujarric, chief spokesman for UN Secretary-General António Guterres has warned Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, now face a dire situation as aid funding diminishes.
(Credit: Violaine Martin/UN Flickr CC)

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