International donors have pledged U.S. $340 million of nearly $1 billion being sought by the United Nations refugee agency this year to support Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, the UNHCR chief said on Tuesday.
United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that Washington announced $155 million, or about 46 percent of total pledges, in new humanitarian assistance for the international response to the Rohingya humanitarian crisis.
“What we launched this morning officially is the fourth Joint Response Program (JRP) in support of Bangladesh to manage the large Rohingya population that has taken refuge [there],” Filippo Grandi, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, said during a virtual news conference.
The 2021 JRP is seeking $943 million to meet the needs of more than 880,000 Rohingya refugees and 472,000 Bangladeshis in the surrounding host communities, UNHCR spokesman Andrej Mahecic said.
“With funds received since the beginning of this year and today’s pledges, close to USD 340 million has been committed towards the 2021 JRP by the international community so far, amounting to more than 35 percent of total requirements,” Mahecic told BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service, in an email.
Late last week, the Geneva-based United Nations agency called for more international aid for the stateless refugees, saying their plight risked being overshadowed by post-coup violence in Myanmar.
Blinken acknowledged that additional help was needed for the Rohingya refugees and for Bangladesh, which hosts more than 1 million of them.
“[T]he United States announced nearly $155 million in new assistance to sustain critical efforts to support Rohingya refugees and host communities in Bangladesh and internally displaced Rohingya and other affected people in Burma,” Blinken said in a statement Tuesday.
“With this new funding, our total humanitarian aid for those affected by the crisis in Burma, Bangladesh, and elsewhere in the region since the brutal violence by the Burmese military in August 2017 is more than $1.3 billion, including more than $1.1 billion for programs inside Bangladesh.”
The U.S. recognized the cost and responsibility that the Rohingya response has placed on host countries, especially Bangladesh, Blinken said.
Last year, the United Nations appealed for more than $1 billion to meet the needs of the Rohingya refugees and host communities in Cox’s Bazar, a district in southeastern Bangladesh.
“At the end of 2020, this appeal was just 59.4 percent funded,” Mahecic said in a statement on Friday.
The UNHCR hopes to exceed that percentage in 2021, Grandi said on Tuesday.
“We need to make progress in order to exceed, if possible, the levels of last year,” Grandi said.
“This continues to be a difficult year for the whole world including for Bangladesh which finds itself in a region particularly affected by COVID-19. The needs are even more urgent than in the past.”
Repatriation of Rohingya refugees
Shahriar Alam, Bangladesh’s state minister of foreign affairs, joined Grandi at the virtual press conference.
He emphasized the urgency of solving the crisis that drove the Rohingya from their homes in Myanmar’s Rakhine state to camps in and around Cox’s Bazar. The refugees include more than 740,000 who escaped a brutal military crackdown in Rakhine in 2017.
“The international community, including the U.N., must intensify their focus on a permanent solution, which lies in the sustainable return and reintegration of Rohingya in Myanmar,” Alam said in a statement.
“Rohingya are willing to return to their homeland” if it is safe to do so and if they can go back with dignity, he said.
“However, any ray of hope has yet to be seen,” Alam said.
The Bangladesh minister said priority areas identified in the JRP must be aligned with the core objective of preparing the Rohingya for their return to Myanmar.
“Any project such as education or skills development should be designed and implemented in ways that would help Rohingya integrate in society upon their return to Myanmar,” he said.
Bangladesh officials, whose wish is for the Rohingya to return home, reached a repatriation agreement with neighboring Myanmar in November 2017. Since then, efforts to assist the Muslim-minority group’s repatriation have failed.
Any new efforts would be up against a nation in turmoil following the Feb. 1 military coup that overthrew the nation’s democratically elected government. Since then, more than 800 have been killed by the junta, according to Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a Thai NGO.
“It is important that recent events in Myanmar – the events of the first of February – need to be addressed in their own right,” Grandi said, echoing calls to end the violence.
“It is important that the Rohingya crisis is not forgotten as action is taken hopefully to address the political crisis that is affecting Myanmar. Hence the importance of this appeal.”
A former Bangladesh ambassador noted that repatriation efforts likely are on hold because of the ongoing post-coup violence.
“But we see a glimmer of hope for repatriation: the National Unity Government in Myanmar recently announced that they would talk to the Rohingya representative on their probable inclusion,” former ambassador Humayun Kabir told BenarNews
“This is a big development, I think,” said Kabir, president of the private think-tank Bangladesh Enterprise Institute.
On April 16, the pro-democracy National Unity Government formed as a parallel government to the one run by the junta.
Meanwhile, the most common needs for host communities are access to food and cash, along with essential health services, said the Inter Sector Coordination Group (ISCG), which provides humanitarian assistance to affected populations around the world.
For instance, efforts to provide food supplies to the Rohingya cost about $11 million per month, the World Food Program representative in Bangladesh said in March last year.
The COVID-19 pandemic has compounded vulnerabilities for the hosts as well as Rohingya refugees, ICSG said.
“More than 40 percent of this year’s financial appeal focuses on two of the most basic and critical human needs, food security and health,” Nicole Epting, ISCG senior coordinator, said in a statement.
“In addition, the priorities for this year include water, sanitation and hygiene, wider health needs including sexual and reproductive health with a focus on women and girls, education and addressing the protection concerns of the Rohingya refugee population in the camps.”
The virtual 2021 JRP conference was co-hosted by the Bangladesh government, the International Organization for Migration and UNHCR. The plan brings together the Bangladesh government along with 134 U.N. agencies and partner NGOs.
Reported by BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.
This content originally appeared on Radio Free Asia and was authored by Radio Free Asia.