With a smile on his face, sexagenarian Abu Sayeed was walking to his home at the Rohingya refugee camp at Kutupalong of Ukhia on Thursday. He was carrying a shopping bag packed with rice, pulses and vegetables.
“I'm happy to have the opportunity to buy most of the essentials from the shop inside our camp. Previously we could buy only five items from there, but now we can have 13 items,” said Sayeed, a government-registered Rohingya refugee, who has been in Bangladesh for around 20 years.
Like him, there are over 32,000 registered Rohingya refugees in two camps at Kutupalong and Nayapara of Teknaf. They all are now entitled to have the facility as the World Food Programme (WFP) in cooperation with the government introduced digitised Food Cards at Kutupalong refugee camp on Thursday. The move aims at ensuring better food distribution among the refugees.
As per Bangladeshi law, the Rohingya refugees are not allowed to go outside of their camps for shopping. They only can buy items from the registered food shops inside the camps for a certain amount of money. The costs are borne by the WFP.
There are six food shops in the two refugee camps, said WFP officials.
Under the new system, the refugees will get eight more items -- potato, semolina, green leaf, dried fish, onion, garlic, chilli and turmeric. Earlier, each Rohingya family maintained a log to collect rice, pulses, sugar, salt and oil.
Each family will be allocated a Food Card and each member of the family will have over Tk 700 loaded on the card for a month.
Whenever a cardholder will produce the Food Card at a shop, the staff there will check the card with a machine for the balance amount in it.
Once the shopping is complete, the staff will adjust the amount from the card balance, said Jessica Staskieqicz, programme coordinator of WFP.
“I think we'll be able to ensure the food security and nutrition of the refugees in a much better way with the new system which gives them choice and dignity,” said Christa Rader, country representative of WFP in Bangladesh.
To prevent misuse of Food Cards, fingerprints of cardholders will be stored in a database and it will be verified during every purchase of commodities, she added.
Speaking at the card launching programme, Mesbah ul Alam, secretary to the disaster management and relief ministry, hoped the new system will help ensure nutrition of the refugees.
Officials of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHRC) and Cox's Bazar district administration were present.
At the moment, there could be as many as 500,000 unregistered Rohingya refugees inside Bangladesh, according to estimates by the UNHCR. They are refugees fleeing sectarian conflict in the Myanmarese state of Rakhine.