Concerns mount over UN food aid cut for Rohingya in Bangladesh

The UN and the Bangladesh government call for more international aid to help the refugees as they face a ‘difficult year’.

Rohingya women and children queuing up for food supplies at a refugee camp in Bangladesh. They are carrying bags and buckets.
Rohingya refugees wait to receive food supplies at a World Food Programme (WFP) distribution centre in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh [File: Alkis Konstantinidis/Reuters]

Concerns are mounting over the World Food Programme’s (WFP) decision to slash food support for the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh due to a funding crisis.

On March 1, the WFP, citing a $125m donation shortfall, cut the monthly food vouchers for the refugees from $12 to $10 per person, warning further cuts were “imminent” without an immediate cash injection.

More than one million Rohingya refugees live in camps in Cox’s Bazar, most having fled a military-led crackdown in Myanmar in 2017.

The United Nations and the Bangladesh government on Tuesday called for more international aid to help the Rohingya in what has turned into the world’s largest refugee camp.

“The response plan that has been launched today is asking for $883m from the international community,” Shahariar Sadat, an academic at Dhaka’s BRAC University, told Al Jazeera.

Sadat said 2023 could be a “difficult year” for nearly one million Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, urging the international funding needs to be “more equitable”.

“I think the world is not looking at the crisis from a level-playing field and that is why we are not getting enough funds to handle the crisis. I think there is a lack of attention here and I hope it doesn’t become a forgotten crisis,” he said.

Last week, New York-based Doctors Without Borders (MSF) warned the aid cut will put hundreds of thousands of Rohingya at serious risk of malnutrition by bringing the number of calories per person to below the accepted minimum standard of 2,100 calories a day.

“Funding has gone down and the number of aid organisations working in Cox’s Bazar has declined by almost 80 percent,” said Claudio Miglietta, MSF country representative in Bangladesh.

Thousands homeless after fire: UN

Meanwhile, the UN said more than 12,000 Rohingya refugees were left homeless due to a fire that swept through a camp at Cox’s Bazar in southeastern Bangladesh.

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) on Tuesday said more than 2,000 shelters and some 90 facilities including hospitals and learning centres were destroyed in Sunday’s blaze.

Bangladesh is investigating the cause of the fire, Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner Mohammad Mizanur Rahman said. “Once we get the report, it will be clear whether it was an act of sabotage or not,” he added.

Fires often break out in the crowded camp with makeshift structures. A massive blaze in March 2021 killed at least 15 refugees and destroyed more than 10,000 homes.

Resident Shafiur Rahman, 24, urged the authorities to provide better facilities. “Our homes were torched in Myanmar. Now we are going through the same here,” he said.

Amnesty International also called on the Bangladesh government to provide safer accommodation for the refugees.

“The government should recognise the danger of keeping large communities in unsafe, over-crowded conditions and take steps to provide adequate and safe housing to the Rohingya community,” Yasasmin Kaviratne, the organisation’s South Asia regional campaigner, said.

Rising crime, difficult living conditions and bleak prospects for returning to Myanmar are driving more Rohingya refugees to leave Bangladesh for countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia by boat, putting their lives at risk. UN data shows 348 Rohingya died at sea last year.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies