Slashing Food Aid for Rohingya Invites Catastrophe, Experts Warn

By Muktadir Rashid   17 February 2023

DHAKA–United Nations experts have warned of possible catastrophe for Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh camps if their life-saving food aid is slashed, and issued an urgent plea for donations to the UN World Food Programme (WFP).

The appeal comes as the WFP is in the process of reducing monthly assistance for 953,000 Rohingyas registered under family card schemes from US$12 to $10 per head, according to aid workers based in Cox’s Bazar.

The UN experts said the World Food Programme signaled it would cut rations for Rohingya refugees by 17 per cent in March and warned that if no new funding commitments were made by April, deeper cuts would have to be made. The WFP is appealing for $125 million in funding to avoid ration cuts.

Bangladeshi officials said fund shortages have already hit aid provision, with many non-profit organizations cutting jobs by 30% to manage costs.

“Rations will be slashed for Rohingya refugees starting in a few weeks, just before Ramadan. This is unconscionable,” said the UN experts – Michael Fakhri, Special Rapporteur on the right to food, and Thomas Andrews, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar.

“If these cuts are made, they will be imposed on vulnerable people who are already food insecure. Acute malnutrition levels remain high, and chronic malnutrition is pervasive among the Rohingya refugee population in Bangladesh, with more than a third of children stunted and underweight,” the UN experts said in a joint statement on Thursday.

“The most vulnerable, including children under five, adolescent girls, and pregnant and breastfeeding mothers, will be particularly exposed.”

“The Rohingya, survivors of genocidal attacks by the Myanmar military, are now further victimized by the failure of the international community to ensure their basic right to food.”

They added that cutting food aid may make refugees more desperate, which could fuel further violence and unrest in the camps. This could also increase the risk of human trafficking, particularly of children and girls, and see more refugees embarking on perilous boat journeys.

The UN Secretary-General’s SDG advocate, Queen Mathilde of Belgium, visited the Rohingya refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar, the largest refugee hub in the world, on February 7 and met with Rohingya women, men, and youths to learn about their challenges, opportunities, anxieties, hopes and dreams.

“The Queen’s visit comes as the crisis is well into its sixth year of displacement, and against the backdrop of a serious decline in available funding. It will help keep the attention on the Rohingya situation, which continues to be one of the largest refugee crises in the world,” said Johannes van der Klaauw, the UN Refugee Agency representative in Bangladesh.

Meanwhile, Sweden’s ambassador to Bangladesh visited the camps on Wednesday and announced her country will donate US$7.6 million to provide cleaner cooking energy, environmental rehabilitation, and skills development for refugees and Bangladeshi host communities.

It is close to six years since over 700,000 Rohingya refugees were forced to flee violence and persecution in Myanmar. Around 1.1 million now live in camps in Cox’s Bazar district on the border with Myanmar. Over 30,000 have been moved to the remote low-lying island of Bhasan Char in the typhoon-prone Bay of Bengal.