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Bangladesh: Rohingya refugees and host communities need urgent support

26 Apr 2019
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In a visit to Bangladesh, the UN Humanitarian Chief, Mark Lowcock, has joined with other top United Nations officials to call on the international community to continue to support the critical needs of 1.2 million people in south-eastern Bangladesh. Most of these people are Rohingya refugees but many are the generous communities who host them.

Mr. Lowcock travelled with the Director General of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), António Vitorino, and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Filippo Grandi.

All three reiterated their commitment to keep working toward safe and sustainable solutions for Rohingya refugees and noted the UN efforts there to help create conditions conducive to their return to Myanmar. 

“The most appalling brutality imaginable”

“The first time I was in Cox’s Bazar in 2017, hundreds of thousands of Rohingya had just fled across the border from the most appalling brutality imaginable,” said Mr. Lowcock. “I met with children who had seen parents killed. Women who were just holding on told me horrendous stories of sexual violence they had survived.”

“During this trip, we met with a remarkable group of male refugee role models as well as women volunteers who are supporting those who have survived this brutality and also working to prevent sexual and domestic violence in the camps. A wise, far-sighted approach would see a stronger focus on helping the refugees not just recover from the horrors they have experienced, but also to prepare for a dignified future,” said Lowcock.

The UN leaders also stressed the need to support the Rohingya during their time in exile, in particular by expanding opportunities for learning and skills training. A third (about 147,000) of the more than 416,000 school-aged children (3-18 years) are currently missing out on education altogether, while the remainder have access to only limited educational opportunities. Less than 10 per cent of 75,000 15-18 year old are able to access any form of education or skills training.

“Give refugees the chance to learn, build skills, and contribute”

“This remains one of the world’s biggest refugee crises,” said Filippo Grandi.  “There are more than 900,000 Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, most of whom fled Myanmar in 2017. I saw a great deal of progress, but their situation, especially for women and children, remains fragile. With the current crisis almost two years on we must give refugees the chance to learn, build skills and contribute to their communities while also preparing for reintegration when they can return to Myanmar,” said Grandi. “The future of the Rohingya refugees hangs in the balance.”

The visit came just ahead of the monsoon season, which poses serious risks, including flooding, landslides and disease outbreaks, to thousands of already vulnerable women, men and children.

They also discussed with the Bangladeshi Government ways the international community can further support preparedness and response efforts.  In the camps, they also assessed the ongoing work that has been undertaken to address weather-related risks, including the strengthening of shelters, the improvement of infrastructure, and the training of volunteers – including refugees themselves.

Concern for welfare

“We are concerned for the welfare of the Rohingya refugees who live in such vulnerable circumstances in Cox’s Bazar, as well as for host communities which also face significant challenges, particularly in the lead up to the monsoon season,” said António Vitorino.

The UN leaders also met with families who were going through the joint government and UNHCR biometric registration process, receiving documents that for many are a first and that confirm their identity in Bangladesh, as well as enhance their right to access services and protection. They also witnessed an innovative World Food Programme e-voucher system which gives refugees the ability to choose from an array of locally-resourced food staples and fresh vegetables in eight designated stores.

In their meetings with refugees, the humanitarian leaders were also reminded of the harrowing circumstances refugees fled from.