Refugees living in already stressed conditions will have to face food shortages.
Who are the Rohingya?
The Rohingya are a stateless ethnic group, who predominantly follow Islam. In 2017, the Myanmar government launched a military campaign that forced over 700,000 Rohingya to flee from Rakhine State, due to violence, armed attacks and serious human rights violations. For decades Rohingyas have faced institutionalized discrimination in a predominantly Buddhist country.
The Rohingyas have lived in Myanmar for generations, but are not recognized as citizens by the government, which considers them to be illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. There are restrictions on marriage, religious choice and freedom of movement. This has led to a lack of access to basic rights such as education, healthcare, and employment, and has fuelled tensions with the Buddhist majority. In the spur of violence in 2017, at least 6700 Rohingya were killed between August 25 and September 24.
Where are they now?
Since the 1970s, over a million Rohingya refugees have fled Myanmar in successive waves. Most Rohingya have sought shelter in the neighbouring country of Bangladesh. According to the UN refugee agency over 943,000 refugees are living in Bangladesh’s Cox Bazaar, which is now host to the world’s largest refugee camp, Kutupalong. The camps where they live are overcrowded and under-resourced, with limited access to basic necessities such as food, water, and healthcare. The vast majority of those who have reached are women and children, with 40% being under the age of 12. The rest are dispersed throughout India, Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia. Being a stateless group, the Rohingya rely entirely on humanitarian assistance for food, clothes, shelter and protection.
What’s happening now?
The World Food Programme (WFP) has announced that it will have to reduce rations for the Rohingya by 17 % in March and it might have to cut more if no new funding commitments were made by April, while warning that it would deepen food insecurity and malnutrition in the world’s largest refugee settlement. The WFP also said it will cut down food assistance from $12 per person to 10$ starting next month. Donations have been stretched by the economic slowdown, pandemic and various crises like food and energy around the globe.
The WFP has stated that it needs $125 million in urgent funding to avoid further cuts. The Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Tom Andrews has stated that the repercussions of these cuts will be immediate and long-lasting as refugees are almost entirely dependent on assistance for their nutritional needs.
Despite humanitarian efforts, 45% of the Rohingya families are not eating a sufficient diet and malnutrition is widespread in the refugee camps. Some 40% of children have stunted growth and 40% of pregnant and breastfeeding women are anaemic. The budget cut will only worsen these conditions.
A reduction in food assistance can make refugees desperate and could lead to violence and unrest in the camps. This could also lead to a plethora of human rights concerns, such as an increased risk of human trafficking of children and long perilous boat rides to different countries in search of a better life. The number of Rohingya refugees taking dangerous sea journeys in the hope of reaching Malaysia or Indonesia has witnessed an increase of 360%.
The situation has also strained relations between Myanmar and its neighbours, particularly Bangladesh. The international community has called on Myanmar to take steps to address the root causes of the crisis, including the issue of citizenship for the Rohingya and an end to discrimination and persecution.
In conclusion, the Rohingya crisis is a complex and ongoing humanitarian issue that has led to widespread suffering and displacement. It highlights the importance of addressing issues of discrimination and ethnic tension, and of ensuring that all people have access to basic human rights and protections. The international community must continue to work together to support the Rohingya and find a long-term solution to the crisis.