Bangladesh has taken a huge responsibility by hosting almost one million Rohingya refugees in the largest refugee camp in the world, said the UN Refugee Agency, calling on the international community to support Bangladesh and share its burden.
"While Bangladesh has shown humanity and solidarity, in line with the guiding principles of the Global Compact on Refugees, the international community must step up and give practical effect to the obligation to share responsibility, and to protect refugees and support the host Bangladeshi government," said UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner for Protection Gillian Triggs.
Triggs and her colleague Raouf Mazou, UNHCR's assistant high commissioner for operations, issued a joint statement yesterday following a four-day visit to Bangladesh from May 30 to June 2. They visited Rohingya camps in Cox's Bazar and Bhasan Char. They had also meetings with Bangladesh government officials and UN officials in Dhaka.
The UN officials reiterated their sincere appreciation to the Bangladesh government and people for humanitarian spirit and generous hospitality towards Rohingya refugees, most of whom fled brutal military crackdown in Myanmar's Rakhine State in 2017.
They also reiterated the urgent need to continue working towards comprehensive solutions, including the voluntary, safe, dignified and sustainable return of Rohingya refugees to Myanmar.
They emphasised that the responsibility for the current Rohingya refugee situation in Bangladesh rests with Myanmar, and that is where the solution lies. However, the recent developments in Myanmar make the prospects of voluntary repatriation in the short term more challenging.
The UN recognised significant financial investments by Bangladesh in Bhasan Char, where some 18,000 Rohingyas were relocated, but said they have protection and assistance needs.
"That is, access to meaningful livelihoods opportunities, skills development, education, health and access to cash to facilitate their daily lives," it said.
The UNHCR proposed further discussions with the government to ensure protection of refugees, as well as on UN's future operational engagement on the island, while also expressing concern over reports of refugees being arrested and detained for attempting to leave Bhasan Char.
"The UNHCR strongly discourages the use of relocation to Bhasan Char as a punitive measure," it said, stressing on relocation on voluntary basis.
"They should have freedom of movement on the island and must be granted the possibility to return to Cox's Bazar and to maintain family connections with those in the camps," said Triggs.
The UN Refugee Agency said while ultimately, the desired solution by the majority of the Rohingya refugees is to return home voluntarily, safely, sustainably and in dignity, when conditions in Myanmar allow, the crisis is now in its fourth year and refugees cannot remain fully dependent on aid.
"Livelihoods and skills training opportunities will provide refugees with a sense of purpose and autonomy while they are in Bangladesh, while preparing them for reintegration when conditions allow them to return home," stressed Mazou.
UN officials said while working towards voluntary repatriation, they also discussed the possibility of introducing alternative solutions for Rohingya refugees. Those include resettlement to third countries for the most vulnerable with specific protection needs, as well as complementary pathways overseas, which could include employment and educational opportunities.
They said additional challenges have been presented by Covid-19 and related restrictions in the Rohingya camps and that they observed a reduced humanitarian presence in the camps and associated protection risks.
The UNHCR has advocated for essential protection services for the most vulnerable, including women and children who are particularly exposed to gender-based violence, including sexual exploitation, early marriage and child labour.