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As international food aid dwindles, many Rohingyas get involved in criminal activities

By Fumiko Yamada* 
In a surprise move, the World Food Programme (WFP) of the United Nations has reduced the amount of food aid to the Rohingya due to lack of funds. Nearly six years into the Rohingya crisis, life-saving aid to Rohingyas in Cox's Bazar has been cut. From March 1, the amount of assistance for each Rohingya was reduced from $12 to $10.
The attention of the international community towards Myanmar's Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh is decreasing. The response from various countries and donor agencies at the beginning of the crisis has steadily declined over the past few years.
Officials of various international organizations and NGOs believe that since the beginning of the Russia-Ukraine war, there are indications that this aid will decrease further. Because, the attention of western countries is now focused on that. Some non-governmental organizations have started cutting back on various programmes due to lack of funding.
Foreign aid for the Rohingya is coordinated by the Joint Response Plan or JRP.
According to them, in 2022, the United Nations Refugee Agency or UNHCR asked for 881 million dollars in aid, but only 285 million dollars came until August. Finally, the total amount of money received last year is still being calculated.
Since August 2017, millions of Rohingyas started to seek shelter in Bangladesh to save their lives. Despite repeated attempts, the Bangladesh government could not repatriate them to Myanmar.
About 938,000 Rohingyas are living in the camps of Cox's Bazar, including Bhasanchar, in the camps of the United Nations Refugee Agency, in about 200,000 families. Although the total number of Rohingyas in Bangladesh is more than 12 million.
The United Nations Refugee Agency, the United Nations Migration Agency and the World Food Programme have been supporting the Rohingyas in the camps with food, clothing, shelter, fuel and medical care. And UNICEF takes care of education.
They mainly spend money through various organizations working with Rohingyas. According to the Bangladesh government, about 150 organizations have been working with humanitarian aid to the Rohingyas.
However, recently after the start of the war in Ukraine, some organizations have taken the initiative to reduce some of their programmes due to lack of sufficient funds.
Officials at the Office of the Commissioner for Refugee Relief and Repatriation, the government agency managing Rohingya refugees, also said that international aid has not been coming in as expected for the past few years, and is now coming even less.
The Rohingyas say they are worried about the gradual reduction in food aid. The Rohingyas demanded international pressure to repatriate Myanmar quickly.

Rohingyas living in camps

Rohingya Asma of Ukhia Camp-4 said that earlier I could buy 5 kg of sugar and 5 kg of pulses. Now the money is reduced, I can't even buy pepper. Then now the rice has to be borrowed from someone else.
Rafiq, another Rohingya, said, "Before March, I used to get food assistance for Tk 1,220. But now I am getting food assistance of 1000 20 rupees. If food aid is reduced in this way, we will suffer greatly. Because even before this, we had to go through some kind of difficulty.
Another Rohingya named Siraj said that earlier people from different countries including people from Bangladesh used to come and help. I was able to eat and drink well then. But since 2018, food aid has started to decline and is no longer increasing. In particular, food aid is further reduced in 2023.
938,000 Rohingyas live in Cox's Bazar, including Bhasanchar camps set up by the United Nations Refugee Agency
Local residents are always afraid of Rohingyas. Local public representatives also fear that the reduction of food aid will increase the crime rate among the Rohingyas.
When the amount of consumption of Rohingya is decreasing, they will want to fix their source of income by engaging in various types of crimes. I think it will have more impact on the local residents.
After the destruction of forests and mountains, wild elephants attacked the locality due to food shortage. Likewise, as food aid to the Rohingyas dwindles, they are likely to attack the locals within a short period of time.

Demand for repatriation

Chairman of Arakan Rohingya Society for Peace and Human Rights Mohammad Jobair said, "Rohingyas are not people without a country. The Myanmar army forced us out of the country. Therefore, we demand that Myanmar be repatriated to our homeland quickly by applying international pressure.
And refugee relief and repatriation commissioner. Mizanur Rahman said, if the allocation is reduced at this stage, the Rohingyas will become more desperate to find work. It will make it more difficult to keep them inside the camp. However, the government is trying to repatriate the Rohingyas to their homeland. The government is working to ensure that the Rohingyas can live with dignity until repatriation.
How much is being sought, and how much help is coming?  According to the Inter-Sector Coordination Group (ISCG), a coordinating organization for humanitarian assistance in the Rohingya camps, the international community's financial assistance has been continuously decreasing since 2019.
In 2019, USD 920 million was sought and USD 692 million was received. In 2020, $1058 million was asked for and $684 million was received. In 2021, 943 million US dollars were requested and 677 million US dollars were received. And in 2022, only 553 million US dollars were received from 881 million US dollars.
Since the beginning of this year, some non-governmental organizations have informed their employees about the suspension of some humanitarian programs. Basically, such indications were available since the beginning of the Ukraine war. Donor funds are not available for some projects. Because of this, some programs are being closed, say those concerned.
It should be noted that more than 700,000 Rohingya took shelter in Cox's Bazar in a few months after the torture by the Myanmar army on August 25, 2017. Earlier there were several lakhs of Rohingyas in Bangladesh. Currently, more than 1.2 million Rohingya are living in Ukhia and Teknaf camps in Cox's Bazar.
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*Graduate of South Asian Studies, University of Toronto, Canada

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