After the failure of the second repatriation attempts for Rohingyas, concerns have risen again about the insufficient international funding to face the refugee crisis and there are worries that donors may shift their resources supporting other issues.
About two-thirds of the funding appealed for in the United Nation’s 2019 Joint Response Plan for the Rohingyas in February is still unmet and its December deadline is looming close.
According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, $330 million was received till Friday, which is 36 percent of the $920 million requested.
The refugees have been relying on the Bangladesh government and international humanitarian aid since the Rohingya influx began two years ago, but the delay in repatriation and lack of funding is exacerbating their vulnerability by the hour.
“If they stay longer, they won’t be in comfort. We have already spent around Tk 2,500 crore from our own fund. If the donors aren’t interested to fund the humanitarian crisis, there will be problems,”Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen said.
“Those who are not willing to go should rethink it now for the sake of their future,” he added.
Over the years, many Rohingyas have fled to Bangladesh to escape decades of systematic discrimination, statelessness and targeted violence in Rakhine State in Myanmar.
Over 743,000 of them fled military atrocities including killings, rapes, tortures and burning of houses in the Rakhine State since August 25, 2017. They joined the 300,000 others who had fled to Bangladesh earlier.
The Inter Sector Coordination Group (ISCG), in an update on the current response plan on Wednesday, said that till July 31 the most well-funded sectors were education, with 35 percent of the requested funding met, followed by food security at 33 percent, and 31 percent of water and sanitation.
No funding was yet reported towards the emergency telecommunications sector, while the health sector is only 13 percent funded, said the ISCG, a combine of UN agencies and international humanitarian groups dealing with the Rohingya crisis in Cox’s Bazar.
Economist Hossain Zillur Rahman said fund flow was a competitive area. “There are some more crises around the world, like in Syria and in African countries. Natural calamities can also shift the attention of donors.”
“They [international donors] might lose interest in the Rohingya issue,” Executive Director of non-government organisation Coast Trust Rezaul Karim, said.
Earlier on Wednesday, sixty-one international NGOs termed funding commitments for the Rohingyas insufficient and said the international community must respond and stand beside Bangladesh to improve the refugees’ living conditions, and allow Rohingyas and host communities to live in dignity.
“With shrinking funds and continued restrictions on refugees’ access to education and livelihoods, the crisis is likely to worsen,” said a statement of the NGOs, adding that the conditions in the camps remained dire and there were growing concerns about safety and security.
Development experts have also pointed out that the already stretched resources ought to be used more efficiently.
Coast Trust’s Rezaul Karim said the humanitarian operations for the Rohingyas should be more cost effective as their repatriation may take time.
Cox’s Bazar CSO-NGO Forum co-chair Rezaul said globally international NGOs operate through local NGOs and that reduces the operational and management costs.
Around 1,300 expatriates were involved in the humanitarian operations and they used around 600 SUVs and cars every day making the operation expensive, he said.
On the impact of falling international funding for humanitarian assistance, Bangladesh’s Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner Mohammad Abul Kalam said, “We have to make an evaluation.
“Some of the agencies in Australia and the United Kingdom are yet to make their announcement. After that, we will be able to know the real picture.”
This is, however, not the first slow response to funding. For the first phase from September 2017 to February 2018, about 73 percent of $434 million requested by the UN was met.
In the second phase between March to December 2018, it was 71 percent of $950 million.
“The Rohingya issue is simultaneously a humanitarian and geopolitical crisis. Who will take its burden? Insufficient funding is an indication that it is on Bangladesh,” Zillur said.
He added that Cox’s Bazar locals had already expressed displeasure over housing the refugees and host communities were complaining that the Rohingyas had started to engage in the local economy.
Rohingyas are not allowed to work in Bangladesh, but they often work as day labourers or fishermen, said locals. They have also lowered the wage rate in the area, they added.
“If the humanitarian assistance drops, it [Rohingyas going out in search of work] will increase,” Hossain Zillur said.