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Dhaka Tribune

Experts: Equip Rohingyas with skills, livelihood opportunities

Making Rohingya children and youths self-reliant will also create a more prosperous future for them in Myanmar, when they can safely return there, they said

Update : 30 Nov 2022, 04:34 PM

Speakers at a policy dialogue on Wednesday underscored the need to identify probable strategies and action plans to achieve increased employability and income for Rohingyas, now sheltering in Bangladesh, through different skills-development programs.

While the Bangladesh government and development partners must work together to support Rohingyas to live in greater safety and dignity meeting basic needs for food, clean water and shelter, they also need to invest further in education to equip children and youths with the skills they will need to make them self-reliant, which will also create a more prosperous future in Myanmar when they can safely return there, they said.

Highlighting that five years have elapsed with repatriation still in limbo and the flow of funds is more fragile than before, they said it is time to focus on making a strategic shift towards a skills-development approach for the Rohingyas for a better outcome.

They made the observations while addressing a policy dialogue, titled “Rohingya Crisis Response in Bangladesh: Do We Need a Strategic Shift from the Current Approach?”, organized jointly by Brac and the Department of Development Studies of the University of Dhaka at a Dhaka hotel.

Diplomats from different countries stationed in Bangladesh, government officials and development partners attended the daylong event.

“Every time I go to the camps, wherever I talk among the Rohingya population, they want to return and all they need is that the conditions in Myanmar are conducive for their return. Unfortunately, the situation as we speak does not allow for a safe, dignified and voluntary return,” said Turkish Ambassador to Bangladesh Mustafa Osman Turan.

The population density is gradually increasing in the camps and is creating all kinds of other issues regarding security, provision of services and difficulty of the relations between the host community and Rohingyas, he said.

Bangladesh is currently hosting over a million Rohingyas who fled from a military crackdown in Rakhine, in cramped camps in Cox's Bazar and Bhashan Char. 

Dhaka has held several talks with major global actors over the safe repatriation of Rohingyas to their homeland, but the international community has so far failed to mount sufficient pressure on Myanmar to take them back.

“This is a recipe for disaster if we cannot adopt a longer-term policy,” said the Turkish envoy.

“When people remain unemployed and have nothing to do, they have no hope. If they have no hope, I think that creates a breeding ground for radicalization and other kinds of illegal activities,” he said.

“We need to look into the possibilities of providing education in a more effective way. What is directly related to education and skills is the possibility of livelihoods and allowing the Rohingya population to be able to earn their living, which in the end will create some sort of hope for their future and sustainability. So I think there is a need in this strategic shift to reflect upon the possibilities of education and livelihoods in a more serious manner.”

Kathryn Davis Stevens, mission director at USAID Bangladesh, said: “We must acknowledge that the burdens that this places on the communities that are hosting this population, they're very real, and we need to provide continued support.

“It is very much time that we believe to shift to a more cost-effective and sustainable approach to the response. We need to look at livelihoods, market-based solutions and educational opportunities. All of these are essential to ensuring that the Rohingyas, once they do return, are equipped for a safe and prosperous future in their home country.”

“Also, educating and equipping the Rohingya with greater skills and livelihood opportunities is essential for the host communities. It will provide increased security, stability and also an economic opportunity to those regions,” she added.

“We're really talking about the importance of education, the importance of skills development and the importance of livelihoods because we recognize that although this remains a humanitarian crisis, it's not enough to just react with an emergency response,” said Vivek Prakash, head of cooperation, Rohingya Refugee Response, High Commission of Canada in Bangladesh.

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Representative Soo Jin Rhee emphasized the need to invest in education and skills development with long-term planning, which can help Rohingyas live a dignified life and can encourage them for a safe, dignified and sustainable return.

Asif Saleh, executive director of Brac, said: “We should now look for a mid-term strategy for the refugees as we continuously advocate for their safe and dignified return to their homeland. There is a growing consensus within the sector that the current work needs to shift towards a development-like approach from a very short-term humanitarian crisis-focused approach. The only solution for the Rohingya refugees is their sustainable and voluntary repatriation to Myanmar.”

Planning Minister M A Mannan, as the chief guest of the inaugural ceremony, said the Bangladesh government has done whatever was possible on its part, but Myanmar's position is still unclear.

“With help from NGOs, development partners and UN agencies, we have been able to reach a point to meet the basic requirements of the Rohingyas, but it is not enough. We need to reach a consensus with our neighbours and the international community,” he said.

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