In an interview with the Dhaka Tribune’s Tarek Mahmud, Bill Chambers, president and CEO of Save the Children, Canada, talks about the ongoing Rohingya crisis.
How would you describe your experience of visiting the Rohingya camps here in Bangladesh?
I saw a large number of people living in terrible and traumatic conditions in the camps. They had arrived in Bangladesh in a terrible physical and mental state but were taken in and given the assistance needed in order to improve their physical and mental state.
It is a huge undertaking to welcome over 600,000 displaced people in three months. While visiting the camps, I realized that a lot of work has been done while more work is needed.
It is an ongoing crisis and we need a long-term solution for it.
What are the possible risks for children living at the refugee camp?
Such camps pose many risks for the children living in them. All the children are still suffering from trauma.
The children who came from different small villages of Rakhine are not used to living in such chaotic environment and this puts an adverse effect on them. Besides, a group of people are trying to exploit them. Some are even trying to traffic the children for child labour.
How do you feel about the support-providing systems at the camps? Are they sufficient?
It is a very large and complex exercise. About 100 agencies, including Bangladeshi, UN and other international agencies, are working to meet the needs of the displaced people. Some are working to feed them, some are working at the entry points of the borders, and some are conducting surveys and providing medical treatment. So far, they are doing their best, but it is a laborious task to provide aid to such a huge number of people.
The aid providing system in the camps is currently functional and will be improved for smoother functioning, but the credit for all these go to all the aid providers.
What are your thoughts about the security of the unaccompanied and orphaned children in the camps?
Almost 60% of the Rohingyas are children. Of them, many are unaccompanied and some of them became orphans after losing their parents or getting separated from their families while fleeing Myanmar. There is a chance of these children being exploited as there are some ill-motivated people who are trying to gain financial benefit from this situation.
There is a need to create children-friendly atmosphere in the camps. These children need a family environment so that they feel secure.
What kind of steps should be taken to educate the Rohingya children?
Save the Children believes in educating children all over the world. The right to education is a basic right of the children. We are now working to set up learning centres for them and the people of the community, who have experienced violence year after year.
How can the basic rights of the displaced children be ensured?
Save the Children is working with the Bangladesh government to ensure that the rights of all displaced Rohingya children are respected, so that they have access to the level of protection and assistance they need and are entitled to.
We asked the government [of Bangladesh] to work closely with UN agencies and international NGOs, such as Save the Children, to develop a response plan that adheres to humanitarian principles and make sure that human rights law is implemented with sufficient speed, considering the scale of need and worsening conditions of the displaced Rohingyas.
We are working to ensure that unaccompanied children receive the right care and protection, considering their highly vulnerable condition.
What is Save the Children’s plan for the Rohingya children?
Save the Children has reached over 250,000 Rohingyas in Cox's Bazar by providing food, shelter and household items, medical care and malnutrition screening and treatment, and child protection activities.
Rohingya children have already suffered so much, with so many of them having witnessed violence and killings. Some children were shot while others had seen their homes being set on fire. Some have watched their parents being killed. The distress and trauma that can arise from experiencing these horrific events needs to be addressed.
Almost all Rohingya children who have fled to Bangladesh have fallen out of the education system because the schools are being used to house the displaced, and also because there is not enough humanitarian funding yet to focus on education, as immediate priorities are food, water, shelter and sanitation. Save the Children is urging all parties to do everything in their power to put an end to the violence in northern Rakhine State and to ensure the protection of all civilians, especially children.
We call for unhindered humanitarian access to northern Rakhine State, where the humanitarian situation will certainly worsen if relief organizations are unable to urgently resume their operations. We also urge the Myanmar authorities to guarantee the safety and security of all humanitarian staff and to allow them to continue their essential work to assist communities in Rakhine State.
We are also pushing members of key UN bodies like Human Rights Council, the Security Council and General Assembly to use their power to tackle the situation at the diplomatic level. We urge the effective implementation of recommendations made by the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State, coordinated by Kofi Annan, which released its final report on August 23. The commission recommended a number of concrete steps that the Myanmar government can take to improve the situation for the Rohingya.
A long-term solution must be discovered for the displaced Rohingya who wish to return to Myanmar safely and voluntarily.
What are your observations on the Bangladesh government, the aid providers and the international community members who are supervising the Rohingya camps?
Bangladesh has proved that it has a big heart. It really is a courageous effort to accommodate thousands of people and feed them three times a day. Bangladesh has created an example across the world by helping others. Besides, the aid providers of Bangladesh and other countries should also be thanked for responding to the recent crisis as soon as it started. The international community, including Canada, is also supporting Bangladesh in this issue which is praiseworthy.
How can the Canadian government work more with Bangladesh to take care of the displaced people from Myanmar?
Canada is going to donate $25 million for the Rohingyas in Bangladesh and Myanmar. It is thinking of providing more funds to be spent mostly for the young girls, women and children. We are focusing on the worst victims of the violence to ensure needs and services. We are also focusing on children’s education so that they can connect with the world and raise a voice against the oppression they have been facing.
How do you think the ethnic community can raise their voice on the global stage to secure their rights?
To some extent, it is the responsibility of all of us to inform the world about what kind of lives the Rohingyas are leading amid many difficulties. The Rohingya people who are educated and informed, and are living in other countries, have to play a key role and raise their voice.