LACK of donor funding has forced the World Food Programme to cut its support to the nearly one million people living in the world’s largest refugee camp, Cox’s Bazar, in Bangladesh.
It is the second time that the daily budget for food vouchers for the Rohingya refugees living in the camp has been cut. The latest reduction means that food vouchers amount to just £6.30 a month, or about 6p a meal.
Thousands of refugees in the camp demonstrated against the cuts in food aid, with some demanding repatriation back to Myanmar. One protester, Mohammed Taher, said: “Our situation is only deteriorating. What future do we have here?”
In March this year, the value of the food voucher was cut from £9.50 to £7.90 a month.
Kyaw Winn, of the Burma Human Rights Network said: “The food aid cuts are severely impacting refugees, many of whom are survivors of genocide in Burma, and face hardships in Bangladesh. Restrictions on refugees in Bangladesh and aid cuts may push Rohingya back to Burma. Repatriation at this time is dangerous, and there is still an ongoing genocide in Burma against the Rohingya. Donor governments must provide funding to meet the shortfalls in the humanitarian response in Bangladesh.”
Yasmin Ara is founder of the Rohingya Women Development Forum. In a piece for The Guardian, from the camp, she said that the cuts to food aid came on top of restrictions introduced by the Bangladeshi government which stopped refugees from working. “We Rohingya are anxious about how long we can live under these conditions, of less food and more restrictions, under the threat of crime and violence. Crisis and constant hardship seems to be our fate.
“Reducing food is worse than being jailed — even a prisoner can have two regular meals. The camp is already like a prison; refugees ache for freedom. The world has to understand our conditions and needs to act.”
Rohingya people fled their home in Rakhine state in Myanmar in the face of brutal violence by the military in 2017 (News, 15 September 2017). More than half of those who fled into Bangladesh were children. UNICEF says that nearly half a million children are living in the camp, at risk of malnutrition and exploitation, including trafficking.
The UN Rohingya humanitarian joint-response plan has only 24 per cent of the $876 million that it says that it needs to support the refugees. Even before the latest food voucher cuts, 45 per cent of Rohingya families were not eating an adequate diet, and 40 per cent of Rohingya children were suffering from stunted growth.
The UN Resident Co-ordinator in Bangladesh, Gwyn Lewis, said: “The nutrition and health consequences will be devastating, particularly for women and children and the most vulnerable in the community. We urgently appeal for international support.”