Declining Humanitarian Aid And Support Will Complicate The Overall Rohingya Situation – Analysis


In 2017, more than 700,000 Rohingya fled to Bangladesh to escape the massacre and brutal repression by the Myanmar Army in Rakhine State, Myanmar. Currently, more than 1.2 million Rohingyas are living in various camps in Cox’s Bazar and Bhasan Char in Bangladesh.

Since the Rohingyas took refuge in Bangladesh, the UN has been providing humanitarian assistance to the Rohingya under the Joint Response Plan (JRP). Due to the global economic downturn and crisis different donors reduce the aid and as a result, The World Food Programme (WFP) has cut food aid to the Rohingyas by about 17 percent. The per capita monthly allocation for food for the Rohingya was $12, which was reduced to $10 from March 1. If no new funds are raised, this may decrease further in the coming days. WFP has sought $1.25 billion in emergency funding from international donor groups this year for relief assistance. Rohingyas are worried that amenities may be further reduced due to funding shortages.

The life of the Rohingyas will be more difficult due to the reduction of food aid. As there is no legitimate means of earning in the camps, a part of the Rohingyas staying in the camps are involved in criminal activities such as drug smuggling, kidnapping for ransom, human trafficking, extortion etc. Currently Rohingya children and women are at high risk of becoming victims of human trafficking which may increase in future. Many Rohingya are risking their lives trying to cross the sea to Malaysia or Indonesia, which will increase in coming days. A reduction in humanitarian aid will upsurge 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 to earn a living to meet their basic needs and it will be difficult to keep them inside the camps. If the Rohingyas leave the camp and look for work outside, it will create a crisis and local workers will be under pressure and competition. This will reduce the regular wages as Rohingyas will add to the cheap labor force. Efforts to promote mutual harmony by bridging the gap between the Rohingyas and the locals will be thwarted. In the 2022 JRP, the emphasis was given to establishing good relations between the Rohingyas and the locals, and it had to be dropped from the priority of this year’s JRP.

In 2022, 62 percent of support came against JRP demand, this was the lowest amount received so far. In 2017 it was 73 percent,72 percent in 2018, 75 percent in 2019, 65 percent in 2020 and 72 percent of the requirement was received in 2021. In 2022, humanitarian agencies worked to prevent conflicts between Rohingyas and local communities through community protection forums, dialogues and increased communication between Armed Police Battalions. Despite reduced funding, the UN wants to continue these projects cost-effectively without closing them down. At the same time, the UN wants to train the through different projects to increase their skills so that they can earn their livelihood through their expertise.

Due to Covid-19 pandemic, Russia-Ukraine war, earthquake in Turkey-Syria, above all the ongoing economic recession around the world, developed countries are also in trouble and their humanitarian funds are under increasing pressure. As a result, there is a risk that aid will decrease further in the coming days. In this reality, UNHCR express the desire to continue its efforts to raise funds and successfully implement its programs with more efficiency and cost effectiveness.

The UN has allocated nearly $9 million from its own funds as aid from the donors to the Rohingyas has dwindled. UNHCR, the United Nations 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 support operations with this money in the Rohingya camps in Cox’s Bazar and Bhasan Char.

UNHCR has placed a demand for $876 million this year to meet the humanitarian needs of the Rohingyas. The main objective of this plan is to provide food, shelter, health care, clean water, security services, education, livelihood opportunities and skill development to the locals and Rohingyas sheltered in Cox’s Bazar and Bhasan Char. It has been informed by UNHCR that this year, humanitarian activities will be implemented under the leadership of the Bangladesh government.

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 Rohingyas in the camps are under the age of 18 and their future is uncertain. Reduced food aid will lead to further malnutrition, health problems, and children dropping out of education, child marriage, child labour and gender-based violence. To keep these under control, it is essential to continue humanitarian and financial support to keep life-saving and life-sustaining support going.

The Swedish government announced 79 million krona or 7.6 million US dollars in aid for the Rohingyas. This grant will provide clean fuel for Rohingyas cooking, reducing environmental degradation in Cox’s Bazar and skills and development work for Rohingyas 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 cogitates that there is no alternative way to solve the Rohingya crisis except to repatriate the displaced Rohingyas to Myanmar. South Korea has so far provided more than 23 million US dollars in aid to the Rohingyas 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 the Rohingyas staying inside the camps in Bangladesh. The Japanese government has decided to provide 5.7 million US dollars to IOM to improve the living conditions of the locals and Rohingyas communities in Cox’s Bazar and Bhasan Char, and to develop the camps. 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 US $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 February 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 Bhasan Char will help UNHCR expand its activities on education and livelihood resources for the Rohingyas. Through this grant, more Rohingya teachers and staff will be trained to implement Myanmar’s curriculum and help Rohingyas to develop vocational and other skills. The Government of Japan has provided over US$204 million in assistance to UNHCR and other UN agencies and NGOs in Bangladesh. 

The US announces $26 million in new humanitarian aid for Rohingyas. This money has been allocated to the Rohingyas who fled from Myanmar and took shelter in various countries of the region including Bangladesh. The total amount of US aid given to the Rohingyas since August 2017 is $2.1 billion.

At the Fifth UN Conference on Least Developed Countries, the Prime Minister of Bangladesh expressed that, the Rohingya situation 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 peaceful and stable. The Rohingyas are involved in various crimes including drugs, 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 as well as disaster across the region and they can become a potential target of terrorist groups at any time.

Rohingyas have been staying in Bangladesh for a long time and the ray of hope for repatriation is not visible. Currently, a good number of Rohingyas 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 impediment in the way of meeting basic needs. In this situation, if the alternatives are ensured then they will naturally look to fulfill those needs through illegal means which are never desirable.

The US 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 the Rohingyas get job opportunities inside the camps then they will never go out of the camps in search of jobs. The US will consider providing training and other measures to improve the employability and skills of the Rohingyas.

To address the aforementioned issues, humanitarian aid agencies may need to restructure their operations. In Cox’s Bazar, the United Nations and International Organizations should take the initiative to hand over the management as much as possible to reduce administrative costs. By involving local institutions in Bangladesh in these activities huge costs can be saved. In the current situation, a long-term plan needs to be formulated on an urgent basis to solve the Rohingya crisis.

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 in the camps. Employment opportunities 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 authorities to prevent violence, drug and arms smuggling as those are coming from across the border.

Security of the camp should be strengthened and round-the-clock surveillance should be arranged. Humanitarian assistance must be sustained by seeking new sources and by establishing contacts with new donors and humanitarian aid agencies. Necessary support should be provided to Bangladesh for the relocation process of Rohingyas to Bhasan Char. Finally, the real solution to this problem lies in the rapid repatriation of the Rohingyas to Myanmar and that must be ensured as soon as possible.

Brig Gen (Retd) Hasan Md Shamsuddin, ndc, afwc, psc, MPhil, Researcher on Myanmar, Rohingya and ASEAN affairs. Dhaka, Bangladesh.

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