Rohingya repatriation not in sight

1,30,000 born in camps, UN seeks $943m in ’21 funding

Shahidul Islam Chowdhury | Published: 23:54, May 17,2021


While the process of starting repatriation of the forcibly displaced Rohingya people to Myanmar has remained stalled for about four years, international communities are set to make new funding commitments today to maintain the Rohingya camps in Bangladesh in 2021.

Two UN bodies — UNHCR and IOM — would take the lead in the Geneva donor conference to seek $943 million for funding the Joint Response Plan this year, JRP 2021, to run scores of projects for about 1.4 million people, including 8,84,041 Rohingyas from Myanmar and 4,72,000 Bangladeshis of the surrounding host communities in Cox’s Bazar.

The donors, however, kept 40 per cent of the $1.06 billion commitments made for the past year unfulfilled.

The JRP 2021 shows a rise of some 29,000 Rohingyas in Bangladesh camps in a year as the UN bodies sought support for 8,55,000 Rohingyas in 2020, while the total rise of the displaced population has been 1,30,000 since 2017 when an estimated 7,40,000 Rohingyas fled atrocities committed by the Myanmar military and their cohorts in Rakhine state, according to UNHCR statistics. 

About 30,000 newborns have been added each year to Rohingya families in Bangladesh camps since the latest influx of thousands of Rohingyas fleeing unbridled murder, arson and rape by the military in Rakhine, what the United Nations has denounced as ethnic cleansing and genocide, beginning from August 25, 2017, according to the UN agencies.

The UN bodies have refrained from allocating funds for the Rohingyas living in the Bhasan Char island of Noakhali district, according to the JRP 2021.

State minister for foreign affairs M Shahriar Alam, who would join the JRP meeting from Dhaka, told New Age that the Bangladesh government was putting emphasis on making the JRP facilitate repatriation of Rohingya people [to Rakhine] with incorporating job-oriented education in Myanmar curriculum and skills training for them.  

Replying to a question on maintaining transparency in the use of funds by UN bodies for Rohingyas, he said that 30 per cent of the expenses went for administrative costs.

The UN has a mechanism to maintain transparency, he said, adding that a free flow of information helps in maintaining transparency.

It would be the fourth JRP for the Rohingyas of Myanmar living in Bangladesh.    

UNHCR global spokesperson Andrej Mahecic on April 14 said that the appeal made in 2020 ‘was just 59.4 per cent funded’.

‘This [Rohingya crisis] must not become a forgotten crisis,’ he said urging renewed international commitment, support and solidarity for the members of the community.

The proposed funds for 2021 are likely to be used for food, health, shelter, sanitation and hygiene, site management, protection, education, nutrition, coordination, etc by implementing 185 projects through nine UN agencies, 56 international NGOs and 69 Bangladeshi NGOs, according to the JRP 2021.

Some 50.9 per cent of the target population are women and girls, while 49.1 per cent men and boys, it said.

The funds provided under the JRP by the US, the UK, Japan, Australia, Bangladesh, the European Commission, Canada, Germany, Sweden, Qatar, Norway, etc directly go to UN bodies and international NGOs, the state minister said, adding that the Bangladesh government does not take any money meant for Rohingyas.

The government has so far shifted at least 18,000 Rohingyas to Bhasan Char as part of its efforts to decongest the camps in Cox’s Bazar.

The UN has recommended the Bangladesh government that ‘any further relocations’ of Rohingyas to Bhasan Char ‘are undertaken in a gradual and phased manner to ensure the governance structure, facilities and services available are commensurate’ to the needs of the members of the community, according to the JRP 2021.

Based on the preliminary findings of the visit of a UN delegation to Bhasan Char, the UN and the Bangladesh government have agreed to further discussions regarding future UN operational engagement in the island, including on the framework that governs the life and wellbeing of displaced Rohingyas on the island, it said.

‘Additional funds might be sought for Bhasan Char in close consultation with the relevant stakeholders, including the [Bangladesh] government, donor community and NGOs,’ it added.

Bangladesh is a co-host of the meeting in Geneva.

Cox’s Bazar CSO NGO Forum, a network of 50 Bangladeshi NGOs working in Cox’s Bazar, on Sunday emphasised a strong coordination among three separate lines of camp management under the UN-led Inter Sector Coordination Group and the offices of the Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner and the Cox’s Bazar deputy commissioner.

A CCNF study has found that $438 have been allocated for each Rohingya family per month, but a family, on an average, has movable assets worth only $132, the CCNF has said at a press conference held virtually on the JRP 2021.

Myanmar signed agreements with Bangladesh in December 2017 to take back the Rohingyas who have crossed over the border since October 2016. 

Two attempts to start repatriation failed in 2018 as not a single Rohingya expressed willingness to go back to Myanmar citing lack of conducive environment and security in Rakhine.

A China-led tripartite mechanism involving Bangladesh and Myanmar to facilitate repatriation also remained stalled while China is extending protections for Myanmar in the UN systems, including the Security Council of the global body, diplomats said.

The latest Rohingya influx has taken the number of undocumented Myanmar nationals and registered Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh to over a million, according to estimates by UN agencies and Bangladesh foreign ministry.

The Bangladesh government has invested more than Tk 3,100 crore in developing the 13,000-acre Bhasan Char island in the Bay of Bengal with all amenities, an uninterrupted supply of electricity and water, agricultural plots, cyclone shelters, two hospitals, four community clinics, mosques, warehouses, telecommunication services, a police station, recreation and learning centres and playgrounds.

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