The Rohingya face the final insult

The Rohingya face the final insult

The Rohingya face the final insult
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Rohingya refugees continue to live in a painful limbo. About 750,000 of them are living abroad in squalor. Cast out of Myanmar, their home, they are trapped elsewhere in humiliating solitude.
Most of them live in refugee camps in Bangladesh, a country that is eager to be rid of them, come what may.
Myanmar itself is in a state of brutal civil war. The military junta that seized power in 2021 in a coup is now engaged in a vicious, and by no means successful, war of all-against-all. So isolated is the country, and so brutal the conflict, press reports are hard to obtain or verify.
However, Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh know one thing: They would be at great risk if they returned to a Myanmar dominated by the same military that committed acts of genocide against them before 2017, when their villages were razed and they were expelled en masse from the country.
But danger lurks in Bangladesh, too, where the refugee camps are scenes of intense violence and cruelty. Refugees are forbidden from working, at least legally, and so for years they have felt the effects of grinding poverty.
That poverty means the Rohingya are dependent on charity and goodwill for food. Much of that food has come from the World Food Programme, a UN agency that for years has been supplementing their meager diet. But now, as global food prices continue to spike as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Rohingya are facing the prospect of less food aid reaching them through official channels.
The WFP has described the challenge in stark terms, warning that it is approaching the precipice of a massive funding shortfall. At a time of rising food prices, it said, the dollar amount of aid it can provide is already being reduced and further cuts are likely.
Al Jazeera reports that the monthly food allowance provided by the WFP to the Rohingya in Bangladesh will be cut by 17 percent to only $10 per person at the beginning of March. Just think of that: Just $10 with which to feed yourself for a month.
That is not all. The WFP has also warned that further cuts will soon be unavoidable unless additional funding is received by April.

The Rohingya will remain in limbo, whether or not some philanthropists ensure they are fed. The only way to resolve their fate positively is to pursue the justice they so desperately need.

Dr. Azeem Ibrahim

This is a very bitter pill for the Rohingya. They have lost everything. They have been thrown from their homes with no hope of returning to a country at war with itself. Their isolation has dragged on for more than half a decade. Now they are at risk of starvation.
UN officials have noted that malnutrition is not unknown within the refugee camps. The weakest are already under great strain as they are less able to ensure they get their rations. Criminal elements that exist within the camps, and the Bengali territory around them, disrupt the delivery of essentials.
Even before the latest cuts are implemented, up to a third of children in the camps are categorized as “stunted” in terms of growth and “underweight,” according to UN officials.
The situation can only get worse.
“The repercussions of these cuts will be immediate and long-lasting, as refugees remain almost entirely dependent on this assistance for their nutritional needs,” Michael Fakhri, the UN’s special rapporteur on food insecurity, and Tom Andrews, special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, said in a joint statement last week.
This is an understatement. If the cuts go through, it could prove to be the final insult to a population that is hardly ready to absorb additional shocks.
The camps are rife with iniquities. Children are forced to work or into marriage because their parents cannot legally find jobs and earn money. It is an awful situation for so many to be in — and it is likely to become much worse very soon.
This can all be turned around, however, just as the shortfall can be averted. An increase in funding for the WFP, which is provided both by nation states and private individuals and foundations, could prevent the axe from falling. If even a few donors made this their priority, they could save many people from destitution, illness and death.
But the larger issues still need to be addressed. The Rohingya will remain in limbo, whether or not some philanthropists ensure they are fed. The only way to resolve their fate positively is to pursue the justice they so desperately need: Justice in which the military junta in Myanmar is held liable for its campaign of genocide and punished, so as to allow the Rohingya to return to a Myanmar that is finally at peace.

  • Dr. Azeem Ibrahim is director of special initiatives at the Newlines Institute for Strategy and Policy in Washington, DC, and the author of “The Rohingyas: Inside Myanmar’s Genocide” (Hurst, 2017). Twitter: @AzeemIbrahim
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