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Rohingya crisis: US aid announcement should lead to more aid to Bangladesh

By Sufian Siddique 

Human rights groups and agencies have expressed alarm at the widening funding gap. WFP's move alone to cut food rations will add significant pressure, said John Quinley of the human rights group Fortify Rights. "The [latest] cuts on food aid will be dire and could lead to significant health consequences for Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh."
A looming funding crisis facing Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh underlines the deepening aid shortages and growing unrest in the sprawling camps along the country's border with Myanmar. 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.
United Nations officials have warned of a shortfall of more than 50% in the $876 million needed this year to provide basic food and shelter for nearly 1 million refugees living in one of the world's largest refugee settlements. In a sign of the widening funding gap, the World Food Program in February announced a 17% cut in refugee rations for camp dwellers to $10 a month from $12 per person and issued an emergency appeal for $125 million to help make up the shortfall. Japan recently pledged $1 million in response, but as one WFP official said, "The overall silence has been roaring."
The "ticking time bomb," according to humanitarian agencies and U.N. officials, is the looming drop in overall funding this year to maintain the Rohingya camps amid growing donor fatigue over other urgent demands, including the fallout of Russia's war in Ukraine, worsening humanitarian problems in Afghanistan and the death or displacement of many millions in Pakistan due to flooding and in Turkey and Syria after February's earthquakes. But The Afghan and Ukraine crises have worsened the situation. But the world must remember that Rohingyas are also refugees.
The US State Department has announced nearly USD 26 million in additional humanitarian assistance for Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, for those people in Burma affected by ongoing violence, and for communities hosting refugees from Burma.
In such a context, the announcement of the United States humanitarian aid to the Rohingyas will raise optimism. Through this, it is expected that the international community will show sincerity in solving the Rohingya problem in Bangladesh and the world conscience will be awakened.
With this new funding, the US’ total assistance for those affected by the Rakhine State and Rohingya crisis has reached nearly USD 2.1 billion since August 2017, when over 7,40,000 Rohingya were forced to flee to safety in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, according to a press statement issued by the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday, during the launch of the 2023 Joint Response Plan for the Rohingya Humanitarian Crisis in Bangladesh.
According to the official press statement, the new funding includes nearly USD 24 million for programs specifically in Bangladesh, providing life-sustaining support to nearly 9,80,000 Rohingya refugees, many of them survivors of genocide, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing, and support to nearly 5,40,000 host community members in Bangladesh.
The assistance, according to Blinken, sees to it that children and young adults have access to education and vocational training, provides families with food and clean water, strengthens sanitation systems to prevent the spread of disease, supports the protection of Rohingya refugees’ human rights and well-being, bolsters disaster preparedness, and helps combat the effects of climate change.
The US urged other donors to contribute robustly to the humanitarian response and increase support to those driven from and affected by violence in Burma.
The United States recognises the generosity of the government and people of Bangladesh and other countries hosting refugees from Burma in the region particularly given that this is the sixth year of this protracted crisis, according to the statement by Blinken.
“We are committed to finding lasting solutions to this crisis, including the safe, voluntary, dignified, and sustainable return and reintegration of displaced Rohingya when conditions in Burma allow. An essential step in ending this crisis is ending the military regime’s brutal repression of its people and agreeing to a pathway to an inclusive multiparty democracy. We commend our humanitarian partners for the lifesaving work they continue to do every day,” read the US Department of State press statement.
UN Human Rights Chief Volker Turk recently called for a coordinated regional approach to protect the thousands of desperate Rohingya who risk their lives by undertaking perilous sea voyages.
“More than 2,400 Rohingya have sought to leave Bangladesh and Myanmar in 2022 alone, and I am deeply saddened that over 200 have reportedly lost their lives on the way. Recent reports indicate that overcrowded and unsafe boats carrying Rohingyas have been left to drift for days on end without any help,” Turk said in a statement released by the UN Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner.
“As the crisis at sea continues, I urge countries in the region to put in place a coordination mechanism to ensure proactive search and rescue, the disembarkation of Rohingya refugees on their territories, and their effective protection,” he added, noting that some States had already provided assistance.
The High Commissioner for Human Rights called on countries in the region and globally to help Bangladesh support the over one million Rohingya refugees who have sought protection there since 2017.
“Clearly, an urgent solution must be found to enable the voluntary return of all Rohingya, with full respect for their dignity and human rights as full and equal citizens of Myanmar,” he added.
Since the military overthrew the government on Feb. 1, 2021, the political, economic, and humanitarian crises in Burma have only worsened; according to sources, there have been close to 3,000 fatalities, close to 17,000 arrests, and more than 1.5 million displaced people. The continued scorched-earth effort by the dictatorship continues to do harm and take the lives of innocent people, halting discussions about the return of Rohingya, igniting an escalating military conflict inside of Burma, and fostering insecurity outside of its borders.
Bangladesh continues to house them despite being forced to use a significant portion of her meager resources to cover expenditures and mitigate effects on her economy, society, and environment. In this path of providing humanitarian aid to the Rohingya, Bangladesh is joined by numerous European, British, and American countries.
The United States has contributed the most to the Rohingya crisis so far. The United States of America, in particular, has pledged massive assistance to Bangladesh in its efforts to shelter Rohingyas. Since the crisis, the United States has been the single most important country in providing funds for Rohingya refugees. Since 2017, the United States has provided more than $1.9 billion in humanitarian assistance to people in Myanmar, Bangladesh, and other parts of the region. The United States was the largest contributor to the JRP fund in 2022, accounting for 50.1 percent of total funding.
The United States, United Kingdom and Canada, to date, have imposed sanctions on 80 individuals and 32 entities to deprive the regime of the means to perpetuate its violence and to promote the democratic aspirations of Burma’s people.
The United States remains firm in her position that the regime’s planned elections cannot be free or fair, not while the regime has killed, detained, or forced possible contenders to flee, nor while it continues to inflict brutal violence against its peaceful opponents. The United States vows to continue to promote accountability for the military’s atrocities, including through support to the UN’s Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar and other international efforts to protect and support vulnerable populations, including Rohingya.
The United States is working with ASEAN, the United Nations (following the recent passage of a UN Security Council Resolution on the situation in Burma), and the international community at large to uphold ASEAN’s Five-Point Consensus, increase diplomatic and economic pressure on the military, and support a peaceful, democratic, and prosperous Burma.
In December 2022, both house of the US legislature has passed a compromise version of the ‘National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA)’, an annual piece of legislation that lays out US defense priorities, serves as a description of US policy towards Myanmar. The fiscal 2023 NDAA includes — US’s support to return to the democratic govt., provide non-military assistance to EAOs and PDFs, funds to support the pro-democracy movement, assist in ethnic reconciliation, protect political prisoners and investigate and document atrocities.
In December of last year, 24 of the selected 62 Rohingyas left Bangladesh for the United States as part of the US government’s resettlement program. According to the US Embassy in Dhaka, US President Biden reaffirmed the US commitment to welcoming refugees by keeping the total admissions target in the Presidential Determination on Refugee Admissions for 2022-23 at 125,000, with a regional allocation of 15,000 for East Asia.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, State Department Counsellor Derek Chollet, Assistant Secretary of the US Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, Julieta Valls Noyes and other top diplomats expressed the same ideology as Bangladesh that the ‘root cause of the Rohingya crisis lies in Myanmar’ and that ‘safe and dignified repatriation of Rohingyas to Myanmar’ is the only sustainable solution.
In the quest for a strategic role — India, China, and regional actors have yet to establish a concrete position, despite greater opportunities to extend their strategic presence and establish themselves as regional leaders by engaging in the Rohingya repatriation process and peace talks to end the crisis in Myanmar. Their contributions have been minimal in comparison to what the US has done so far. While the US is strongly supporting Bangladesh on Rohingya issue, unfortunately, China and India’s geopolitical and geo-economic interests in Myanmar leave Bangladesh to manage the Rohingya crisis alone.
Despite increasingly competing aid priorities, the Rohingya crisis should still be core to the international agenda, because nearly 1 million Rohingya genocide survivors still dwell in the darkness," he said. "With no hopes for safe repatriation and under many restrictions, they are reliant on international aid. They have little or no rights as refugees, and aid cuts will result in severe malnutrition and hunger. The highest cost will be paid by the most vulnerable -- women and children.
It would be appreciated if the US administration works with Bangladesh government. It will reflect better mutual understanding between both administrations. The west and well-wishers of the promotors of humanitarian issues can follow the US footprint.

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