Alarm grows over WFP plan to cut food aid for Rohingya refugees

Experts say the reduction, resulting from a severe funding shortfall, could be ‘catastrophic’ for hundreds of thousands in Bangladesh camps.

Rohingya women and children queuing up for food supplies at a refugee camp in Bangladesh. They are carrying bags and buckets.
The World Food Programme has been operating in the camps since 2017 when the Rohingya were forced out of Myanmar [File: Alkis Konstantinidis/Reuters]

Alarm is growing over the World Food Programme’s (WFP) plan to cut food aid to hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees living in camps in Bangladesh because of a severe shortfall in funding.

The WFP, the United Nations food agency, has said it will need to cut rations to the refugees next month because of a lack of funds.

The monthly allowance will be cut by 17 percent to $10 per person from March 1, with the WFP warning more cuts will be necessary without new funding by April.

The agency is appealing for $125 million in funding.

“If these cuts are made, they will be imposed on vulnerable people who are already food insecure,” Michael Fakhri, the UN special rapporteur on food insecurity, and Tom Andrews, the UN special rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar, said in a joint statement on Thursday.

The statement noted there were already high levels of malnutrition in the camps in Bangladesh, where some 750,000 mostly Muslim Rohingya fled in 2017 amid a brutal military crackdown in their native Myanmar. More than a third of children there are stunted and underweight, the experts added.

“The repercussions of these cuts will be immediate and long-lasting, as refugees remain almost entirely dependent on this assistance for their nutritional needs,” the UN experts said.

The deprivation in the crowded camps has already contributed to incidences of child labour and marriage among the Rohingya, according to experts, with some risking the perilous weeks-long journey by boat across the Andaman Sea in the hope of finding a better life in Malaysia, Indonesia and beyond. The latest boat – carrying 69 Rohingya, including children – arrived in the Indonesian province of Aceh on Thursday.

International NGO Save the Children says international donors must “not turn their backs” on the Rohingya.

“Rohingya children and their families are at breaking point and need more support, not less,” Onno Van Manen, Save the Children’s country director in Bangladesh, said in a statement. “More than five years after 750,000 refugees arrived in Cox’s Bazar we are hearing reports of increasing hunger and malnutrition, as well as child marriage and child labour, at a time when parents have almost no opportunities to work, and families are increasingly risking their lives at sea to seek a life beyond their refugee camp.”

Myanmar is on trial for genocide at the International Court of Justice over the 2017 crackdown.

A UN investigation published the following year found the military had acted with “genocidal intent” and recommended commander-in-chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, and five other generals, be prosecuted.

Min Aung Hlaing led a coup against the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi in February 2021, triggering what some UN experts have characterised as a civil war.

Source: Al Jazeera