Virtual Fundraiser Collects $600M in Pledges to Aid Rohingya in Bangladesh, Myanmar

Kamran Reza Chowdhury
201022-BD-BU-US-donors-rohingya_1000.jpeg Rohingya walk in the Kutupalong refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, Jan. 27, 2018.
Kamran Reza Chowdhury/BenarNews

An international conference on Thursday to raise funds urgently needed for supporting Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh and those displaced inside Myanmar received about U.S. $600 million in pledges led by donations from the United States and the United Kingdom, according to organizers.

The one-day virtual meeting helped the United Nations exceed its goal for 2020 of raising at least $1 billion among members of the international community to sustain humanitarian services for Rohingya refugees and other members of the stateless community, officials said.

American officials promised $200 million and British officials another $61.2 million during the “Sustaining Support for the Rohingya Refugee Response” conference, which was hosted by the two nations along with the European Union and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The EU pledged 96 million euros ($113 million).

“The international community has demonstrated its strong commitment to the humanitarian response with the announcement of funding today totaling some $600 million,” the co-hosts said in a joint statement posted on the UNHCR website.

The pledges made on Thursday “significantly expands the nearly $636 million in humanitarian assistance already committed so far in 2020 under the Bangladesh Joint Response Plan and the Myanmar Humanitarian Response Plan,” they said.

Other donations included $100,000 from the Philippines, $2.4 million from Finland and $591,000 from France. Organizers said the conference was needed because pledges had fallen well short of the $1 billion requested by the U.N. for this year.

Announcing the U.S. donation, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo acknowledged Bangladesh’s efforts to host about 1 million Rohingya in refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar district, including 740,000 who escaped from Myanmar’s Rakhine state following a military crackdown in August 2017.

Pompeo said his government would continue to “advocate for a sustainable solution that creates the conditions for the voluntary, safe, dignified, and sustainable return of Rohingya refugees.”

In November 2017, leaders from Bangladesh and Myanmar had agreed to repatriate the Rohingya to their homes in Rakhine state on a voluntary basis but all efforts since then have failed.

“More broadly, we continue to partner with the people of Burma, including members of other ethnic and religious minority groups, in their efforts to work toward peace and prosperity,” Pompeo said, referring to Myanmar by its old name.

Thanks, concerns

In Bangladesh, government officials expressed mixed views about the new financial pledges for humanitarian assistance, with some saying that having to keep hosting such a large refugee population from Myanmar was a heavy load to sustain.

Addressing the virtual conference, Shahriar Alam, Bangladesh’s state minister for foreign affairs, praised Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina for saving the lives of Rohingya by opening the border and allowing them to settle in the Cox’s Bazar camps.

“On the part of a small country like Bangladesh with a large population and limited resources, it was indeed a huge humanitarian gesture and a daunting task that no second country was willing to shoulder,” he said.

In delivering a series of bullet points, Alam said the burden of hosting the Rohingya was becoming untenable, the Rohingya wanted to return home and the lack of repatriation progress had led to widespread frustration among the refugees.

“While we appreciate the humanitarian assistance of the international community, we also call upon them to engage with Myanmar in a meaningful way to ensure the creation of a conducive environment in the Rakhine,” he said.

Dil Mohammad, a Rohingya leader living in the no-man’s land area in Bandarban district, which borders Myanmar, praised Bangladesh efforts to support the refugees.

“We are extremely grateful to them for their support, but this is a reality that Bangladesh cannot feed and support a huge population without the support from the international community,” he told BenarNews, noting that international support had enabled the refugees to have three meals a day.

“Without the support from donors, we will starve. Hopefully, the international community and Bangladesh will continue supporting us,” he said.

Md Delwar Hossain, director-general of the Myanmar office at Bangladesh’s foreign ministry, noted that the funds raised would be spent for Rohingya.

“The international support for the host community in Ukhia and Teknaf is very little. The support they get is too little against the losses they faced for hosting the Rohingya,” he told BenarNews, referring to two sub-districts of Cox’s Bazar.

“In addition to the loss of livelihood, the host community suffered huge losses because of the Rohingya – their land was occupied, roads were damaged, and trees were cut. Many of the losses are irreparable,” Hossain said. “The Rohingya arrival has resulted in massive environmental damages which are almost impossible to recoup.”

Hossain, like other officials, said his goal was to help the Rohingya return home.

“We want the international community to play their role to make Myanmar agree to take their people back,” he said.

Meanwhile, Hamidul Haque Chowdhury, the Ukhia sub-district chairman, said the host community needed assistance as well.

“The local people have been suffering more than the Rohingya, so the international community should extend a hand to the host community and listen to their grievances,” Chowdhury told BenarNews.

Myanmar voices

In Myanmar, Aye Lwin, a Muslim community leader and former Kofi Annan Commission member, told Radio Free Asia, a sister entity of BenarNews, that the Rohingya issue did not affect just one country.

“The side effects of this issue will spills into surrounding countries. Because they are refugees who are in urgent need, the countries in the region should also contribute to their assistance,” he said.

According to Min Lwin Oo, a human rights attorney, the COVID-19 pandemic has complicated problems for delivering aid to Rohingya because many countries now face economic hardships.

“I think it would be very challenging to fulfill $1 billion needed for the refugees. Only if these funds will be used for health care, education and vocational trainings will the conditions of these refugees improve,” he told RFA’s Myanmar Service.

Myanmar government and military officials did not immediately respond to RFA requests for comment.

Before Thursday’s meeting, New York-based Human Rights Watch sent a letter to conference hosts calling on them to insist that Bangladesh and Myanmar officials ensure that Rohingya children are able to go to school.

“This entire generation of Rohingya children is being deprived of education and there is no end in sight to the status quo of gross discrimination in both Myanmar and Bangladesh,” said Bill Van Esveld, associate children’s rights director at Human Rights Watch. “Donor governments should demand a paradigm shift to fulfill this basic human right of quality education, with the full involvement of the Rohingya community.”

An injured Rohingya boy sits outside the Malaysian Field Hospital in Cox's Bazar after being treated there, Jan. 27, 2018. [Kamran Reza Chowdhury/BenarNews]
An injured Rohingya boy sits outside the Malaysian Field Hospital in Cox's Bazar after being treated there, Jan. 27, 2018. [Kamran Reza Chowdhury/BenarNews]

Medical concerns

Also on Thursday, the U.S.-based Physicians for Human Rights issued a report after interviewing 26 health workers that documents allegations of widespread sexual violence against Rohingya by Myanmar security forces during the 2017 crackdown.

Those interviewed reported that their Rohingya patients had recounted gang rape, sexual humiliation and sexual and gender-based violence accompanied by other violent acts, such as beatings, shooting and killing of family members, the group said. It called for those responsible to be prosecuted to the full extent of international law.

“Health workers’ testimonies of the behavioral and mental health status of Rohingya survivors tell us that these egregious acts of violence had a deep and long-lasting impact on survivors, significantly traumatizing them even years after the initial event,” said Ranit Mishori, the group’s senior medical advisor in a news release accompanying the report.

One day earlier, the Malaysian government announced that it had decided to permanently close its field hospital in Cox’s Bazar after having temporarily shut it in March, when Bangladesh was hit by the coronavirus outbreak.

The hospital opened to fanfare in November 2017 and was to remain open until December 2021. Officials at the time said it was the only field hospital capable of providing Level 3 services including general surgery, orthopedics, obstetrics and gynecology and x-ray services. Malaysian officials noted that six other field hospitals had opened in the Rohingya camps.

Before closing, the Malaysian hospital had treated more than 108,000 patients and doctors performed more than 3,500 surgeries, according to government officials. They noted that the number of patients dropped from a one-month high of 8,763 in November 2018 to 1,690 the month before it closed.

“Throughout the (Malaysian Field Hospital)’s period of operation, the medical personnel were often exposed to health and safety risks, such as the spread of COVID-19 and the threat of other infectious diseases such as hepatitis, malaria, and tuberculosis as well as the increase in criminal cases among Rohingya refugees and locals,” the Malaysian Defense Ministry said in a news release on Wednesday.


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