UNHCR, partners seek $876m for Rohingya refugees facing ‘chilling fog of uncertainty’ and for Bangladeshi hosts

UNHCR, partners seek $876m for Rohingya refugees facing ‘chilling fog of uncertainty’ and for Bangladeshi hosts

This is a summary of what was said by Johannes van der Klaauw, UNHCR Representative in Dhaka, Bangladesh – to whom quoted text may be attributed – at today’s press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

Bangladesh. Bamboo forestry holds promise for Rohingya campsCaption: More funding is needed for skills training and livelihood projects like one that is supporting refugees and host communities to grow bamboo for building and stabilizing hillsides. © UNHCR/Kamrul Hasan

GENEVA, 7 March 2023 – UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and partners are calling on the international community to redouble efforts for sustained financial support and solutions for Rohingya refugees and the Bangladeshi communities that are hosting them as the dire situation enters its sixth year.

Under the leadership of the Bangladeshi authorities, the 2023 Joint Response Plan for the Rohingya Humanitarian Crisis calls for $876 million to reach 1.47 million people. The Joint Response Plan brings together 116 partners, nearly half of them national organizations from Bangladesh.

The Plan, which was launched today, aims to help some 978,000 Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar and on the island of Bhasan Char, and 495,000 Bangladeshis in neighbouring communities, with food, shelter, health care, access to drinkable water, protection services, education, as well as livelihood opportunities and skills development.

Every day, the nearly one million Rohingya women, children and men that fled from violence and persecution in Myanmar for Bangladesh wake up in a chilling fog of uncertainty about their futures. They are desperate to return to their homes in Myanmar, which are currently out of reach, and instead live in extremely overcrowded, and sometimes dangerous conditions in refugee camps, relying almost entirely on humanitarian assistance for their survival.

While the situation has become protracted, the needs of refugees remain urgent. Women and children, who make up more than 75 per cent of the targeted refugee population, face higher risks of abuse, exploitation, and gender-based violence. More than half of the refugees in the camps are under 18, their futures on hold.

Since the onset of this humanitarian crisis in 2017, the Government of Bangladesh and local communities, with aid agencies, have been quick to respond to arriving refugees in what remains the world’s largest refugee camp. However, as global displacement continues to rise, so does the risk that the needs of Rohingya refugees and surrounding host communities will be forgotten.

With decreased funding, refugees stand to face even more challenges in their daily lives in terms of proper nutrition, shelter materials, sanitation facilities and livelihood opportunities.

The lack of funds has already forced the World Food Programme to cut its lifesaving food assistance to all Rohingya living in the camps; despite concerted humanitarian efforts, 45 per cent of Rohingya families are not eating a sufficiently healthy diet and malnutrition is widespread. These ration cuts are likely to result in higher malnutrition rates, deteriorating health, school dropouts, increased incidents of child marriage, child labour and gender-based violence.

It is therefore vital to ensure continued funding and support to be able to deliver life-saving and life-sustaining assistance to the camp population while also investing in education, skills training and livelihood opportunities, allowing refugees to partially fulfil their basic needs with their own means. The relocation of some 30,000 Rohingya to the island of Bhasan Char needs to be complemented by significant investment in communal livelihood initiatives as a prerequisite for the viability and sustainability of the project.

The combination of prolonged displacement and deteriorating camp conditions has prompted an increasing number of refugees to resort to dangerous boat journeys to seek a better future. Last year alone, more than 3,500 Rohingya attempted high-risk boat journeys across the Andaman Sea and Bay of Bengal. Sadly, 10 per cent lost their lives or went missing.

The solutions to the Rohingya crisis ultimately lie within Myanmar. Many Rohingya refugees continue to express their desire to return home when conditions allow, yet currently there is no prospect for a safe, dignified and sustainable return in the immediate future. Hence, steadfast support from the international community remains crucial to support efforts by Myanmar to develop conditions conducive for return and to uphold the Rohingya right to return, while also supporting delivery of life-saving assistance and effective protection to refugees in the camps until they can return, with their rights ensured.

Given its geography, annual cycles of heavy monsoon rains and cyclones pose substantial risks to refugees in camps and host communities. Among the objectives of the Joint Response Plan, in coordination with the Government of Bangladesh, will be to strengthen disaster risk management and combat the effects of climate change through reforestation and promoting the use of renewable and cleaner energy sources. The provision of cooking gas, which has significantly eased pressure on the environment, requires significant funding.

Link to photos: https://media.unhcr.org/Share/q5xv8lsd31c2u7f08pwifguln084lk43

For more information on this topic, please contact:

> In Bangladesh, Regina de la Portilla, [email protected], +88 01847 327 279
> In Bangkok, Babar Baloch, [email protected], +66 80 086 5611
> In Geneva, Matthew Saltmarsh, [email protected] +41 79 967 99 36

    Young Rohingya refugees are helping to turn world’s largest camp green

    Young Rohingya refugees are helping to turn world’s largest camp green

    Author: UNHCR By Kristy Siegfried in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh

    Samia has spent five of her 14 years living in Kutupalong – the largest and most densely populated refugee settlement in the world

    The series of camps that make up the settlement were carved out of the forest in southern Bangladesh in 2017 to shelter hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees fleeing violence in western Myanmar’s Rakhine State. Nearly one million people are now crammed into an area of just 17 square kilometres. Bamboo shelters throng the hillsides and narrow roads teem with pedestrians, rickshaws, humanitarian vehicles and traders. It is no wonder that Samia looks skyward for a sense of peace.

    “When I see a flock of birds flying nearby, I feel good,” she says. “I like the sound of the birds.”

    After arriving in Bangladesh, following a traumatic journey from Myanmar, Samia was dismayed to see the forest being destroyed as trees were cleared to make way for shelters.

    “When I first came here, I saw people kill wild animals when they entered the camps. They cut the trees and threw them away to cultivate the land. And people used to litter everywhere.”

    “Climate change means it’s too hot during the summer and too rainy during the monsoon.”

    Thanks, in part, to her efforts and those of other young Rohingya refugees in Kutupalong, attitudes towards wildlife and the surrounding forest are starting to change.

    Samia belongs to one of five youth groups in the camps that, along with five similar groups in the surrounding host community, have received training on environmental issues from UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and its partner organization, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). They have learned about the links between destroying trees and vegetation and the climate crisis that increasingly impacts their daily lives.

    “Climate change means it’s too hot during the summer and too rainy during the monsoon,” says Samia. “I’ve seen with my own eyes shelters being broken by landslides and people being injured.”

    Last year, the youth groups were asked to identify environmental issues affecting their section of the camp and to come up with their own solutions to them. Samia jumped on the opportunity to educate her family, friends and neighbours about the importance of protecting trees and local wildlife that wanders into the camp. She and the rest of her group run awareness-raising sessions with children, adults and local leaders like imams.

    “I tell them, ‘If you let the trees grow, you will get shade and sit peacefully under them.’ I tell them not to kill the animals because they benefit us.”

    Bangladesh. Young Rohingya refugees champion environmental action in camps

    Young group members have made waste bins from bamboo and placed them around the camp. © UNHCR/Kamrul Hasan

    Bangladesh. Young Rohingya refugees champion environmental action in camps

    Members of one of the youth groups use posters to explain to other refugees how to properly dispose of their waste. © UNHCR/Kamrul Hasan

    Bangladesh. Young Rohingya refugees champion environmental action in camps

    Mohammed Rofique (centre) and other members of his youth group are trying to improve waste management in their community through awareness raising. © UNHCR/Kamrul Hasan

    Southern Bangladesh is extremely vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. The refugees’ makeshift shelters, many of them built on deforested, unstable hillsides, provide little defense against tropical storms of increasing intensity. Last year alone, flooding and landslides forced some 24,000 refugees to abandon their homes and belongings and 10 refugees died during heavy monsoon rains. 

    “We are witnessing climate change every day,” says Mohammed Rofique, 18, who belongs to another youth group. “But the big countries are not seeing it; they are the ones who need to be aware. They need to stop cutting trees. Here, we’re trying to save our trees and save nature.”

    Rofique’s group is trying to improve waste management and the shortage of bins in their part of the camp, to reduce pollution and the clogging of drains and canals. 

    “People used to throw their rubbish everywhere. It smelt really bad, and it was unsafe for the children,” he says. “Rubbish used to block waterways so when it rained, it flooded and spread waste around the camp.”

    As well as making and distributing bins made from bamboo, the group has planted gardens in open areas where people used to throw their rubbish.

    Besides the obvious environmental benefits, Ehsanul Hoque, who works with UNHCR’s environment unit, points out that the youth groups are equipping young people in the camps with problem-solving and leadership skills, and giving them a sense of purpose in a place where there are very few opportunities to access higher education or livelihoods. “We’re letting them know that they can [make a difference]. You can talk to your family, your neighbour, you can start with yourself.”

    UNHCR works with partners and refugee volunteers to regreen the camps and restore the ecosystem by planting thousands of trees, shrubs and grasses, restoring waterways, and distributing Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) to all households as an alternative to firewood.

    •    See also: Rohingya refugees restore depleted forest in Bangladesh

    Samia says she has persuaded her younger brothers to stop throwing stones at birds and that other refugees are receptive to the group’s messages about protecting the environment.

    “Some people don’t want to listen to us, but I truly believe that, gradually, their viewpoint will change,” she says. “At the end of the day, I feel good thinking that I raised awareness in my community.”

    Recently, when a large snake was found in her block of the camp, some of her neighbours wanted to kill it, she says. “But others said, ‘We don’t need to, we can take it to the forest and release it’. So they put it in a big jute bag and carried it there.”