The UN’s plans to alarmingly cut food aid in camps in Bangladesh shows that the international community must prioritise funding to vulnerable Rohingya refugees, the Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK (BROUK) said today.
The World Food Program (WFP) this week announced it will cut food rations to Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, by 17 percent from 1 March, to US$10 per person. The UN agency said the decision was due to a sharp drop in international funding, and said further cuts were likely in April unless donors urgently provided a further $125 million.
“These cuts will put close to one million Rohingya lives at risk. These refugees have survived a genocide and are almost completely dependent on aid in the camps. Cutting their food rations will have devastating consequences, not least for the most vulnerable,” said Tun Khin, President of BROUK.
“International donors must not turn their backs on the Rohingya. Just because the headlines have disappeared does not mean that the needs have – refugees need the world’s help more than ever.”
Close to one million Rohingya refugees live in camps in Cox’s Bazar in southern Bangladesh. Some 700,000 arrived in 2017, when the Myanmar military launched a vicious operation in Rakhine State, killing thousands of men, women and children and torching hundreds of villages.
Food security has been a major issue in the camps even before the WFP’s ration cuts were announced. Many families struggle to find enough to eat, and more than one-third of children are stunted or underweight.
Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh are essentially barred from working and earning their own living, meaning that they are almost wholly dependent on aid from the UN and NGOs. Experts have warned that further cuts in food rations will hit the poorest and most vulnerable refugees the hardest, in particular children.
Reducing aid could also make Rohingya, especially women and girls, more vulnerable to human traffickers. In recent years, Rohingya have increasingly tried to leave camps by boats to reach other countries in the region, such as Malaysia.
The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, estimates that at least 1,920 Rohingya took to boats in 2022– a sharp increase from 287 in 2021. The sea journeys are dangerous as refugees often lack access to food, water and medicine, and have reported being abused by traffickers. At least 119 people were reported dead or missing last year.
“Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh lead lives of utter desperation. Cutting their food rations will only make things worse, and could drive even more people to risk their lives on dangerous sea journeys,” said Tun Khin.
“The international community must do everything they can to support Rohingya refugees, including by providing enough funds to ensure that their most basic needs are met. At the same time, the world must continue to pressure Myanmar to end the ongoing genocide against the Rohingya so that the refugees can return to their homes in safety and dignity.”
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