More international support needed for Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, say UN and World Bank chiefs
The international community must do more to support nearly one million Rohingya refugees living in “heartbreaking” conditions in Bangladesh, the UN chief said today.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres made the appeal during a visit to the world’s largest refugee site, a vast settlement in southeast Bangladesh near the Myanmar border. Accompanying him under driving monsoon rains was World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim.
“My appeal to the international community is to step up to the plate and to substantially increase the financial support to all those who are in Bangladesh to protect … assist and support the Rohingya refugees,” Guterres told reporters at a news conference.
He and Kim are at the end of a two-day visit to Bangladesh to garner more support for refugees and their hosts. They were joined on the trip by UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi and UNFPA Executive Director Natalia Kanem.
“It is impossible to visit these camps without breaking our hearts with the suffering of the Rohingya people.”
The Secretary-General said more funds are urgently needed as a key US$950 million humanitarian aid plan remains just 26 per cent funded. The shortfall is worsening conditions for hundreds of thousands of refugees living in fragile conditions since fleeing a military crackdown in Myanmar last August.
“It means that we do not have the capacity to provide the kind of basic education that would be necessary,” he said. “That means that malnutrition is prevailing in the camp, that means that the conditions of water and sanitation are far from being ideal.”
The high-level delegation met with Rohingya refugees during a tour of the sprawling settlement, which is now is home to more than 700,000 women, men and children. Many have reported widespread killings and abuses in Myanmar in recent months.
“It is impossible to visit these camps without breaking our hearts with the suffering of the Rohingya people,” Guterres told reporters. “First of all listening to the terrible stories of massive violence, of killing, rape and torture, of all the houses and villages burned.”
Addressing reporters, Kim said the displacement was “one of the worst situations I have ever seen” in a decades-long career providing health care and education to the poorest people in developing countries. He added simply: “Today we are all Rohingya.”
The delegation had previously held bilateral meetings with authorities in Dhaka, including with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wazed, to open discussions on the medium-term support needed by the refugees and the communities hosting them.
The Secretary-General thanked the Bangladeshi government and people for keeping their borders open and providing basic support to refugees at a time when other countries around the world had closed frontiers.
The visit came days after an announcement by the World Bank of half-a-billion US dollars in grant-based support to help Bangladesh address the needs of the refugees and their hosts in areas including health, education, water and sanitation.
Kim said: “We have to stand in solidarity with them so that they can live a life of dignity, and their demand for such basic things that just about everyone else in the world enjoys.”
“Today we are all Rohingya.”
“We are just getting started, but we as the World Bank Group are committed to doing more and more to make sure that the Rohingya … get some justice,” he added.
The Bank’s support was welcomed by Filippo Grandi, who said the allocation would improve the “conditions of the camps and also of the local communities, and really step up the assistance from purely humanitarian and day-to-day to medium-term and developmental.”
While efforts remain focused on mitigating the impact of monsoon rains in the settlement – where above 20,000 people are still at great risk from landslides and flooding – Grandi said “we are really counting on these additional resources, and perhaps more resources that the Secretary-General and president of the World Bank will be able to mobilize in the future, to stabilize the conditions and create durable solutions.”
In a four-hour tour of the settlement, the delegation also visited a newly leveled area where hundreds of refugees had been relocated to some 400 sturdy, bamboo-framed homes, served by water pumps and latrine blocks.
They also visited a primary health centre funded by IOM, and met with women and girl refugees at a UNFPA women-friendly space. At a transit centre that currently receives around 50 new arrivals a week, they met refugees who reported ongoing violence in Myanmar.
Eighteen-year-old Hamida Begum, who fled her home in northern Rakhine state last week, told the delegation she witnessed an eight-year-old girl raped and killed by five soldiers, and had herself been attacked by troops.
“They came into my home and assaulted me. When I cried out, they burned me with wood from the fire.”
“They came into my home and assaulted me. When I cried out, they burned me with wood from the fire,” she said, pointing to a scarred hand and thigh. “No woman is safe there at night.”
Bus driver Ruhul Amin, 21, who sought safety in Bangladesh in late June, said Myanmar troops had placed ever-tighter restrictions on villagers who remained in their homes.
“We can’t move freely, we can’t work, and the army took our land for a military post … Life is impossible there,” he said.
The Rohingya are a stateless Muslim minority who have endured decades of repression and social exclusion. Current conditions in Myanmar do not allow for a safe and dignified return for refugees. UNHCR and UNDP recently agreed with the Government of Myanmar to begin creating those conditions and preserve the right of Rohingya refugees to return if they decide to do so.
The UN only supports the return of refugees when it is voluntary and when the conditions are in place for a sustainable life. Amin told Guterres he hopes to return, but only with clear guarantees.
“Citizenship as Rohingya and justice for our women and children who were raped and killed.”
The visit concludes today.