There has been a major influx of the Rohingya in Bangladesh over the last couple of years. Many of these men and women -- around 300,000 -- have already been naturalised in Bangladesh, and some of them have even migrated to Middle Eastern countries using the Bangladeshi passport.
However, this sizeable migration of people from Myanmar’s Rakhine state that occurred after August 25 seems to have broken all previous records. Nearly 600,000 of the Rohingya have managed to cross over -- 52% of whom are infants -- with the daily average being 12,000 right about now.
Many countries around the world can be seen offering shelter to refugees, Germany and Turkey come to mind, but the Rohingya influx that Bangladesh is currently witnessing is perhaps the fastest-growing of this phenomenon. The speed, scope, and size of the influx has overwhelmed all agencies involved.
Government agencies (especially local government bodies) and law enforcement agencies, including the civil military bureaucracy, are more than a little overwhelmed with the possibility of this crisis being extended for more than the initially estimated time.
A people in need
Though the response of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, the Bangladesh government, and the people of Bangladesh has been quite extraordinary, the ultimate effect of this forceful displacement of a people is likely to impact our nation’s future growth trajectory significantly.
Like in any other case of refugee influx management, calls for shelter cannot be left unheard. The Rohingya refugees had to make quite a trip to get here, literally risking life and limb. To not offer them any shelter after they arrive is simply out of the question.
But it becomes quite a challenge when we have almost 900,000 of them, 600,000 of them fresh. At a minimum, we need at least 200,000 shelters to house that number.
The Bangladesh government has made 3,000 acres of forest reserves available for refugees, but are ready to allocate more land if required. IOM has already built more than 40,000 shelters, adequate for 260,000 people.
Of course, more money is always a good thing. It is needed for building more shelters, providing food, medication, sanitary services, and education for the kids.
With nearly 600,000 new Rohingya entrants, the cost for the next one year is likely to be $600m or Tk4,800cr. Not surprising that the finance minister is asking for a relook at the budgetary allocation
At the beginning of October, UN agencies put up an estimate of $434 million to manage this episode, but only $105m has been received so far. Not only do we need more money, more than that, we need concerted efforts from all stake-holders to keep the effects of the migration at a manageable level. Unfortunately, a lot of this rests on the shoulders of the Myanmar political and military leadership.
Our finance minister has been heard saying to newspaper reporters that he has been looking at reviewing the budgetary allocations and revenue estimates in order to tackle and accommodate this Rohingya crisis into our public finance architecture. In fact, a military brigade has been deployed, and they are doing a great job, but they also need money to do what is needed.
Putting the nation on the line
Bangladesh seems to have taken an unprecedented risk with the Rohingyas staying here for an indefinite period. Our economy, environment, and security is going to be at serious risk if they stay here for a longer period of time than previously estimated.
Almost 1,000,000 Rohingya are living in Ukhia and Teknaf areas of Cox’s Bazar. The 600,000 or so new entrants have reportedly built habitats in almost 4,500 acres of forestry. Each day, 500 tons of trees are being burned to help them meet their fuelling needs.
For the last 45 days or so, the estimated loss of forest resources has been Tk150cr. As a knock-on effect, prices of essentials have gone up significantly in nearby markets.
There has been a serious pull on the price of essentials in the urban areas as well.
Since most of the Rohingya are not supposed to have any earnings, the estimated expense of each Rohingya entrant is going to be $1,000. With nearly 600,000 new Rohingya entrants, the cost for the next one year is likely to be $600m or Tk4,800cr.
It is not surprising that the finance minister is asking for a relook at the budgetary allocation.
The Rohingya influx is already posing something of a threat to the tourism industry in Cox’s Bazar and nearby places. Analysts are of the opinion that this crisis, in the longer run, would have a severe adverse impact on our tourism, exacerbating the already real security concerns.
In the long run, the Rohingya are going to need jobs, otherwise they may resort to crime -- something we all want to avoid.
Cox’s Bazar and the south-eastern zone already being a job-scarce territory, this itself is cause for concern. Other related issues requiring immediate attention include the rapid loss of forest resources, sanitation, health services, and education for the Rohingya kids.
The bill will rise further if the crisis goes on much longer.
Mamun Rashid is a leading economic analyst in Bangladesh.