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Dhaka Tribune

Please don’t shift the spotlight away from the Rohingya

With newer crises waiting in the wings, we cannot forget those who have already been suffering for a long time

Update : 20 Jun 2022, 12:34 AM

In 2017 more than 750,000 Rohingya refugees fled atrocities in Myanmar and took refuge in the world’s largest refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. 

The Rohingya have taken refuge in Bangladesh every time atrocities were committed on them, dating back to the 1980s. This year marks the fifth year of the Rohingya exodus to Bangladesh. The Rohingya have taken shelter in 33 camps in the Ukhiya and Teknaf Upazilas of Cox’s Bazar, and the numbers have increased to a million. 

This substantial number of displaced people have been drawn into a protracted crisis. The delay in solutions at the Myanmar end is preventing them from safely returning to their homes. 

Among the current Rohingya population in Bangladesh, over 50% are children according to UNHCR data. This means over half a million children are living with an uncertain future, with limited access to education and safety. Women are continuing to bear the burden of gender-based violence and inadequate essential services. Young people are deprived of skills development and livelihood opportunities given the challenges at the camp. 

They are almost stuck in a vicious cycle of inequality, living in makeshift shelters with no prospect in sight of getting repatriated to their native country. This means, unfortunately, even after five years, a million-plus people are continuing to live ad hoc lives, being solely dependent on support from the host country, Bangladesh, and the international community. 

The fact that the Rohingya and host community residing in Bangladesh are highly vulnerable to various disasters and extreme weather is de-prioritized by the world community. Bangladesh ranks seventh in the world on the list of countries most vulnerable to climate change, according to the Global Climate Risk Index 2021 by Green watch. 

Cyclone, flooding, and landslides are common in Cox’s Bazar, which drastically impact the Rohingya’s living conditions in the over-crowded camps in temporary shelters. The risk of the Rohingya and the host community in Cox’s Bazar becoming climate refugees is extremely high. It is also mentioned in the recent report of IPCC, which highlights the state of global warming, that the climate crisis is on us -- the risk is now imminent. 

There were many accidents in the camps due to fire outbreaks as well, making safety a big concern for the inhabitants in the camps. In the last two years in addition, the Covid-19 pandemic increased challenges for all actors engaged in the response. Lockdowns to curb the spread of the virus disrupted the flow of information and access to basic services in the camps. Vaccination drives for the refugees also need to be prioritized by the Bangladesh government as a measure to safeguard the Rohingya. 

ActionAid Bangladesh, as a rights-based organization, has been working in the Rohingya response since 2017 in Bangladesh in various sectors to address the multi-dimensional needs of the displaced population. 

It has reached over 380,000 refugees in 32 camps through various interventions, covering food security and livelihood, WASH service, site management and development, skills development, protection, psycho-social support, gender-based violence case management, community risk assessment, and emergency support during disasters. 

On this world refugee day, we focus on “the right to dignity and safety for all, irrespective of their identity and location.” ActionAid Bangladesh reaffirms the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations. We also reaffirm the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and recall the core international human rights treaties. Thus, our demands are that full protection of human rights standards be accorded to all refugees, regardless of status, considering all of them as rights-holders. 

Global leaders need to focus on preventing and solving atrocities and human rights violations before they occur, putting aside their personal stake and political differences. As the atrocities against the Rohingya being committed since the 1908s have not been addressed, it is important to act immediately to redress the violations. We believe we all need to refocus and rethink the Rohingya crisis. The Rohingya should be repatriated with the support of UN and international leaders, with full dignity and safety, to Myanmar. 

Their lives, safety, and security matter. 

The international community has the moral and legal obligation to take collective actions to change the ongoing culture of inaction, indifference, and impunity, as it is displacing billions of people, leaving them in misery and vulnerability.

All UN member states -- particularly the well-off, influential countries -- need to play a greater role for the proper and timely implementation of the international principles and declarations. In most of the major conflicts of recent history, UN Security Council members have -- apart from general rhetoric -- often ignored the issues of accountability and upholding individual criminal accountability, which is the primary responsibility in its mandate of maintaining international peace and security.  

A noticeable difference is in the approach to the Ukraine and Russia conflict. Is it possible that this will set a new level of commitment by northern leaders for action, covering all refugee crises?  

Calls for access to basic rights and safety through joint efforts need to be made for all refugees across the world. It is thus critical not to shift the focus and continuously decrease resources with faulty arguments of other priorities. The Rohingya refugees, for that matter refugees across the globe, are left unsecured with the threat of depleting funds or funds diverted, and humanitarian actors are asked to make do with whatever comes their way, despite joint need assessment and clear indication of the requirements on the ground. 

It begs the question: Is this not a recipe for further dissatisfaction and conflict? With the present Russia-Ukraine crisis, let us not forget all the other groups still waiting for long overdue justice. We all, collectively, owe it to them. 

Farah Kabir is Country Director, ActionAid Bangladesh.

 

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