Amid the Afghanistan crisis, Bangladesh's Rohingya refugee crisis should not be forgotten

The Rohingya crisis is the result of a long-smoldering problem that may become the catalyst for new sources of conflict in the region, writes Kazi Mohammad Jamshed for South Asia Monitor 

Kazi Mohammad Jamshed Nov 02, 2021
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Bangladesh's Rohingya refugee crisis

As of July 2021, only $366 million of the around $1 billion humanitarian assistance fund for the Rohingyas has been disbursed. This has declined to 34 percent, from the 72-75 percent of the required funds in the first three years of the Rohingya influx into Bangladesh since 2017. This fall in foreign donations raises a question: Has the world forgotten the plight of the Rohingyas? 

2021 marks the fourth anniversary of the inhuman, military-backed “clearance operation” in Myanmar followed by a massive exodus of hundreds of thousands of Rohingyas in what UNHRC dubbed a textbook example of ethnic cleansing. While the rest of the world had turned blind eye to Rohingyas, Bangladesh generously extended temporary shelter to them.  

These stateless people have equal rights to lead a dignified life and build a stable future in Rakhine. But this can be guaranteed only if the world expresses solidarity with them. Stable funding commitment from long-standing donors is a prerequisite for food security, safe water, healthcare as well as non-food items for the 1.1 million Rohingyas.  

Repatriation unlikely now 
 
The ultimate sustainable solution of a safe and sustainable repatriation seems a distant reality now, even after signing two repatriation agreements, due to Myanmar’s unwillingness to create conducive conditions. Until repatriation becomes possible, the world must stand by one of the largest refugee-hosting countries to uphold the dignity of the world’s most persecuted minority of our time. 

As one crisis competes with another, newly emerged problems usually dissipate global concentration with respect to fund and focus towards an existing one, worsening the situation. Donors’ unwillingness to open purses as much as the situation demands may intensify the crisis.  

Foreign aid for Rohingyas started declining after the onset of economic fallout triggered by Covid-19. Moreover, the Taliban's takeover in Afghanistan has created a new humanitarian crisis by displacing millions of Afghans. This has resulted in a significant slashing of foreign donations to Rohingyas by shifting the spotlight on the Afghan crisis. 

Dhaka spends a lot of Rohingyas 

Along with incurring social decadence and environmental degradation, Bangladesh is also bearing a substantial economic burden for supporting the persecuted Rohingyas. The Center for Policy Dialogue (CPD), a Bangladeshi think tank, reported that Dhaka has to spend around $1.22 billion every year on Rohingya refugees, which will bump up with the growth of population, inflation and decreasing foreign aid. CPD also estimated that once repatriation starts, it will take 12 years, assuming if 300 Rohingyas are repatriated every day, and assuming the current population growth remains constant.  

According to CPD, around $7 billion would be required to host and support the Rohingya refugees for the first five years without repatriation.  It is next to impossible for a country like Bangladesh to afford this colossal expenditure as it relies heavily on external debt to meet its budget deficit. 

The Rohingya crisis is the result of a long-smoldering problem that may become the catalyst for new sources of conflict in the region. Tremendous funding shortage may lead to the emergence of newer challenges -- extortion, prostitution, human trafficking, drug dealing, radicalization as well as intra-groups and inter-group conflicts such as killing of Rohingya leader Mohibullah.  

Worsening challenges 

Moreover, the financial shortage will have a devastating impact on children and women who require age and gender-sensitive interventions. Ignoring these challenges may be a boomerang not only for Bangladesh but for the rest of the world by deteriorating regional stability. As international aid is dwindling, Bangladesh faces increased challenges in managing this beleaguered community. Many local NGOs are providing humanitarian assistance to the Rohingya with their own funds but this cannot be sustained longer without external donations. 

The best way to counter the challenges is to ensure regular financial flow which cannot be borne alone by Bangladesh. Dhaka may initiate a joint fund-raising campaign to pool contributions from individual and institutional donors. Bangladesh should leave no stone unturned to make sure that the Rohingya issue is not sidelined and international focus remain on it. It is equally important to emphasize on effective utilization of funds which can be done by slashing foreign employees and involving more local NGOs. 

Rohingya communities are in dire need of international support. The world community must wake up to keep the pledges committed at the beginning of this crisis and should not pass the burden on to Bangladesh alone. The shared efforts of the global community are needed to reach the conditions required to end the plight of the persecuted Rohingyas.  

(The writer, a strategic affairs and foreign policy analyst, is a lecturer at the Department of International Business, University of Dhaka, Bangladesh. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at kazi.duib@gmail.com)