At the end of a joint visit to Bangladesh, three top United Nations officials – the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock; the Director General of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), António Vitorino; and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi – reiterated their commitment to keep working toward safe and sustainable solutions for Rohingya refugees in Myanmar and noted the UN efforts there to help create conditions conducive to return.
Meanwhile, they called on the international community to continue supporting the critical needs of 1.2 million people in south-eastern Bangladesh, mostly Rohingya refugees but also including generous host communities.
After visiting the refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar and meeting with different refugee groups, they also highlighted the critical importance of supporting the Rohingya during their time in exile, in particular by expanding opportunities for learning and skills training. They noted that almost half of the 540,000 refugee children under the age of 12 are currently missing out on education altogether, while the remainder have access only to very limited schooling. Only a handful of teenage children are currently able to access any form of education or training.
“This remains one of the world’s biggest refugee crises,” said Mr. 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 – the future of the Rohingya refugees hangs in the balance.”
“The Rohingya community is made up of so many young people who are in need of hope and opportunities if they are to build successful lives upon their return to Myanmar,” Mr. Vitorino added. The visit came just ahead of the cyclone period, which is followed by the monsoon season. Both pose serious risks, including flooding, landslides and disease outbreaks, to thousands of already vulnerable women, men and children.
The UN leaders discussed with the Government ways the international community can further support preparedness and response efforts. While 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. They recognised the critical role the refugees themselves are playing in these efforts.
“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 Mr. Vitorino.
The UN leaders also met with families who were going through the joint Government and Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees’ (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 (WFP) 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 reminded of the harrowing circumstances refugees fled from and were encouraged by their resilience.
“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 longer-term future,” Mr. Lowcock added.