An International donor conference calling for continued humanitarian support for the Rohingya refugees, to be held on October 22, serves as an important reminder that the Rohingya crisis – now in its fourth year – is far from over, and requires urgent action.
In fact, as an aid organisation working in partnership with the government of Bangladesh and refugees, we at Medair believe the need to support the Rohingya is at an all-time high.
The world is reeling from the ongoing impact of COVID-19 and for many of us, wherever we may live, the future has never seemed so worrisome. In such uncertain times, the temptation to turn inward, to limit generosity within our own borders, may seem appealing.
Thus, we welcome this initiative led by the UN Refugee Agency, the United States, the European Union, and the United Kingdom. We applaud the commitment to bringing countries together and, we hope, pledge to increase urgently needed international cooperation and funding for the Rohingya.
As of September, the 2020 Joint Response Plan for the Rohingya crisis was less than half funded. This is not the time to hold back. This year, most of us have had to learn to live amidst a deadly crisis and an uncertain future. For the Rohingya, this is not new. COVID-19 is yet another threat to their families, to their lives.
As a stateless - predominantly Muslim - minority, the Rohingya have been targets of what the UN has called a "textbook example of ethnic cleansing." Since August 2017, over 700,000 Rohingya have fled horrific violence in Myanmar and found safety in Bangladesh. Some 600,000 remain in Myanmar, including 130,000 living in camps for Internally Displaced Persons.
The Rohingya long for one thing only: to return safely to their homes, where they were born, and where they want their children to grow up. Until this can be done safely, we as aid organisations are committed to continuing our work with the government of Bangladesh and the Rohingya. And together, progress has been made; whether by ensuring life-saving nutrition treatment for children and mothers, providing free primary health care to all, securing safer shelters to protect families during the harsh monsoon season, or by providing safe drinking water.
The unexpected arrival of COVID-19 has greatly complicated the continued provision and access to these services. Restrictions limiting in-person contact have resulted in a significant reduction in the humanitarian presence on the ground. Numerous relief efforts were suspended. While the virus has thankfully remained relatively under control among Rohingya refugees so far, the full impact has yet to be measured and there is growing concern that the progress made over the past three years could be eroded.
Moreover, 2020 has also seen a further escalation of tensions and threats impacting the Rohingya and many feel like time and hope are running out. Some are now attempting perilous and deadly crossings in the treacherous Bay of Bengal sea in a desperate search of a better life.
The solution to this crisis is not a humanitarian one. What we provide is immediate, critical relief, not a long-term solution. Yet, with little indication that such a resolution is within reach, we must do everything we can, as an international community, to offer our continued support to the Rohingya.
The Nobel Peace Prize awarded to the World Food Programme on October 9 is a timely reminder of the powerful impact of humanitarian assistance on vulnerable communities. As governments and key actors come together at Thursday’s conference, we urge them to commit to bold pledges and actions. Full funding of the current response is urgent, as well as diligent work towards the safe, voluntary, and dignified return of Rohingya refugees to their homes.
The future of tens of thousands of families who are struggling to survive amidst multiple life-and-death crises, depends on it.
- Rachel Hirons is the Bangladesh Director for Medair, an international NGO that provides emergency relief and recovery services to families made vulnerable by natural disasters, conflicts and other crises
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