The Aid Ebb For Rohingya Refugees – OpEd


Since 2017, the United Nations has been seeking humanitarian assistance for the Rohingya under the name of Joint Response Plan (JRP). The Rohingyas, who had taken refuge in Bangladesh to save their lives from a genocidal attempt by the Myanmar military, are still living in congested camps and restricted livelihoods with no hope of change any soon. To add salt to the wound, the funding for them, the world’s most persecuted community, has been declining as every year passes.

The 2024 JRP requires $852.4 million, which is about 9400 crore Bangladeshi Taka, to support 1.35 Rohingya refugees and host communities (as of 13 March 2024). In the last JRP, the annual funding requirement was $875.9 million, and around 50 percent of it remained unmet.

According to the draft plan of JRP 2024, 1.5 million people need humanitarian assistance in 2024, including Rohingya and the local people of Cox’s Bazar. This year, besides the Rohingyas, 346,000 Bangladeshis have been placed under the humanitarian aid plan. Despite the demand, 0.2 million Bangladeshis who are in crisis are excluded from JRP because of insufficient funds.

Due to fund shortages, the World Food Program (WFP), in June last year, cut its monthly food rations for the Rohingya refugees from $10 to $8 per person which is around 1224 Bangladeshi Taka to 1070 Bangladeshi Taka. Even before the ratio was cut, 40 percent of the children under five were chronically malnourished, and 12 percent were acutely malnourished.

New cuts to the food rations will definitely increase the risk of malnutrition and have severe impacts on the health of the refugees. A reduced calorie intake puts people at risk of malnutrition and anemia—something that is especially dangerous for pregnant people and newborn babies. Many of those receiving antenatal care at Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) health facilities are already malnourished.

Last year, 12 percent of pregnant women at Kutupalong Hospital and Balukhali Clinic were diagnosed with acute malnutrition, and 30 percent had anemia. Women who are malnourished and anemic are at a higher risk of experiencing complications during childbirth, and their newborn babies are more likely to have poor health outcomes. Donors must immediately reprioritize Rohingya refugees and reaffirm funding commitments.

In 2021, donors provided $690.6 million against the requirement of $ 943.1 million. This saw another fall in 2022 as the JRP fund only accumulated $610.2 million, which was 69.3 percent of the $881 million.

Sharp fall in Rohingya funding is making their life miserable. The question arises as to why JRP funding remains a failure. Several senior officials of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs say that the Rohingya crisis has gone off the radar from international attention due to the Russia- Ukraine war, the situation in the Middle East, and now the Israel- Palestine war. Besides, there is also a global financial crisis. All in that, the international community seems not that interested in the Rohingya crisis anymore. 

UN officials believe, cut in food aid makes Rohingya people more desperate, fueling violence and mess in the camp. Rohingyas, especially children and girls, are at the higher risk of becoming victims of human trafficking. 

Living conditions in Rohingya camps are challenging and substandard. Men, women, and children are trying to escape camps filled with poverty and crime in the hope of reaching the shores of Indonesia or Malaysia for a better life. The UNHCR said nearly 4500 Rohingya people took boats across the Andaman Sea and Bay of Bengal in 2023, fleeing crowded refugee camps in Bangladesh.

On January 24, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said at least 569 Rohingya people died or went missing at sea in 2023 as they tried to reach Southeast Asia. In recent months, more than 1700 Rohingya refugees left Bangladesh and arrived in Indonesia’s north on 11 boats, fleeing once again as camps in Bangladesh become increasingly crowded and dangerous.

Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) states that relying on foreign loans is not a prudent or enduring strategy to address the Rohingya crisis. The World Bank (WB) and Asian Development Bank (ADB) are progressively tightening their financial support, creating a significant challenge for Bangladesh. The country now finds itself in a desperate situation. The diminishing funds allocated for the Rohingya crisis are placing an immense financial burden on Bangladesh, forcing the country to resort to borrowing for the refugees’ well-being.

Meanwhile, conditions in the Rohingya camps are steadily deteriorating. Criminal activities, including killings, drug peddling, and extortion, have become commonplace. The pervasive frustration and lack of employment opportunities make the Rohingya population increasingly susceptible to unlawful activities. At the same time, the absence of proper education, recreational facilities, and a conducive environment has led some children to become involved in various juvenile offenses. If funding keeps falling like this, Bangladesh will face not only financial constraints but also the looming threat of a security lapse.

Sadia Aktar Korobi

Sadia Aktar Korobi is a Student, Peace and Conflict Studies (MSS), Dhaka University, Bangladesh.

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