World must not forget the Rohingya refugees of Bangladesh
The Afghan and Ukraine crises have worsened the situation. But the world must remember that Rohingyas are also refugees, writes Parvej Siddique Bhuiyan for South Asia Monitor
Amid the Covid-19 epidemic, Myanmar's military coup, the Afghan refugee crisis and now the Ukraine situation, Bangladesh's Rohingya minority remains in a limbo. Funding for them is running out. Bangladesh is being made to bear the burden of the Rohingyas alone. The international aid for the 1.1 million Rohingyas who have taken refuge in Bangladesh has been greatly reduced. If this continues, a catastrophe is feared.
According to UNHCR, only 13 percent of the $881 million annual response plan for the Rohingya has been funded as of May 2022.
According to a source, $921 million was expected in the outgoing year but $635 million was received, which is 69 percent of the demand in 2019. The international aid slipped further the next year.
Refugees cost money
The cost of supporting the Rohingyas is expected to be $1.21 billion per year, and this may rise as their number grows, inflation rises and international financing declines. The refugees are providing cheap labour and are active in small enterprises in Cox's Bazar, which is driving wages down and reducing job prospects for locals. The situation has also pushed up the cost of living for locals.
Only $366 million of the anticipated $1 billion humanitarian assistance fund for the Rohingyas have been disbursed as of July 2021. The payout has dropped to 34 percent, down from 72-75 percent of the total required funds in the first three years of the Rohingya influx in 2017. This drop begs the question: Has the world forgotten Rohingyas?
The Afghan refugee and Ukraine crises have worsened the situation. But the international community must remember that Rohingyas are also refugees and they are in Bangladesh. This problem is also an international humanitarian problem like that of Afghanistan and Ukraine.
Any long-term solution must take the local and national context into account. However, until then, the flow of humanitarian aid must be ensured since they must meet their fundamental necessities.
While focusing on the "catastrophic disaster" in Ukraine, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, has stated that the world must not forget about other challenging situations around the world, such as the Rohingya crisis.
The Inter-Sector Coordination Group (ISCG), a coordinating body of international organizations, is working for the Rohingya in Cox's Bazar. According to their data, promised funds are not available. In 2019, only 69 percent of the demand was met. As a result, many projects taken to improve the living standards of the locals could not be implemented.
The lion's share of the money received was spent on food for the Rohingya. The funds were able to meet 75 percent of the demand for food, 66 percent for education, 36 percent for health and only 35 percent for nutrition.
If the promised funds are reduced every year, there will be a crisis in the future. This could lead to clashes between the Rohingyas and locals.
Long-term uncertainty about repatriation may encourage Rohingya refugees to engage in criminal activity. They are becoming disgruntled as a result of the prolonged ambiguity surrounding their repatriation.
When Rohingyas discover that there is little support for them, they will devise a plan to make money through human trafficking, prostitution, illegal drug dealing extortion and theft.
Although international organizations are concerned about the funding of the Rohingya, they have no concern for the locals. Although 25 per cent of the Rohingya fund has been promised for the locals, very little has been spent on them. Last year, LPG was provided as an alternative fuel for 165,000 Rohingya families. Only five thousand local families have been given that facility. Despite the massive environmental catastrophe caused by the Rohingya, there is no international assistance to compensate for this loss.
According to the Center for Policy Dialogue (CPD), a Bangladeshi think tank, Bangladesh must spend roughly $1.21 billion each year on Rohingya refugees, a figure that will rise as the population grows, inflation rises, and foreign aid declines. According to the CPD, if repatriation begins, it will take 12 years if 300 Rohingyas are returned daily, assuming current population growth remains unchanged.
The CPD estimates that it will cost $7 billion to house and support Rohingya refugees for the first five years without repatriation. A country like Bangladesh, which relies significantly on external debt to finance its budget deficit, will be unable to afford such a massive outlay.
According to the Cox's Bazar Forest Department, six and a half thousand acres of forest have been occupied for the Rohingyas. The damage to the environment and biodiversity is unimaginable.
Divisional Forest Officer Humayun Kabir said trees were being cut down every day to collect firewood for Rohingyas. The green nature of the area is lost.
More than 1 million Rohingyas have been living in the area and all activities have been affected. Agricultural land is being destroyed. If this continues, this area will be unsuitable for human habitation.
(The author is a Dhaka based security and strategic affairs analyst. Views are personal. He can be contacted at email@example.com)
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