The United Nations launched a worldwide appeal Tuesday to raise more than U.S. $800 million this year to support around 855,000 Rohingya refugees and 444,000 Bangladeshis who live in host communities in southeastern Bangladesh.
The money will be used for vital services, such as food, shelter and clean water, as well as education and healthcare of the refugees, the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR said.
“Support of the 2020 Joint Response Plan is essential to safeguarding the well-being of Rohingya refugees – both now in Bangladesh and once it is safe and sustainable for them to return home to Myanmar,” Filippo Grandi, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, said in a statement, referring to the joint fundraising by the U.N., the International Organization for Migration and other partner agencies.
“Until then, the world must stand by the Rohingya and by the Government and people of Bangladesh who continue to host them,” he said.
About 740,000 Rohingya from Rakhine state fled their homes, beginning in August 2017, after Myanmar’s military launched a brutal offensive in response to deadly attacks by a rebel group on government security posts.
The Rohingya who crossed the border into southeastern Bangladesh joined tens of thousands of other Rohingya who had previously fled Myanmar, bringing the number of refugees in camps in and around Cox’s Bazar district to more than 1 million.
It was not immediately clear how the UNHCR statement came up with its figures on the number of refugees.
Reacting to the U.N. appeal for funds, Athena Rayburn, senior humanitarian advocacy manager for the NGO Save the Children in Cox’s Bazar, said in a statement that many refugees “continue to suffer from mental health issues as a result of their distressing experiences.”
“Children from the host community have also been affected; their lives turned upside down,” Rayburn said, as she urged the international community to “step up and provide the funds desperately needed to continue to protect Rohingya and host community children.”
Mostafa Mohammad Sazzad Hossain, UNHCR’s public information officer in Bangladesh, told BenarNews that funds raised by the United Nations and its partner agencies in the past two years were “heavily focused on life-saving assistance and protection of the refugees in desperate situation,” including the setting up of shelters.
“Moving into the third year of the response, the goal is to keep hope alive and give Rohingya refugees and their Bangladeshi hosts a view to the future,” he said.
A recent attempt by Dhaka and Naypyidaw to return thousands of the refugees to Myanmar on a voluntary basis collapsed in August 2019. UNHCR and Bangladeshi officials said none of those interviewed among the 3,450 people cleared for repatriation were willing to go back.
Myanmar, which classifies Rohingya Muslims as illegal migrants from the Indian subcontinent and denies them citizenship, is the subject of a lawsuit launched by Gambia at the International Court of Justice. The persecuted Muslim minorities claim roots that go back centuries in Myanmar’s Rakhine state.
In a rare preliminary ruling last January, the Hague-based court ordered Naypyidaw to take urgent measures to protect its Rohingya population from genocide. Its final decision on the lawsuit, which accuses the Southeast Asian country of violating the 1948 Genocide Convention during its crackdown, is expected to take years.
Myanmar’s campaign of violence, including burning of villages, left thousands of Rohingya dead, while some of those who tried to flee were subjected to torture and mass rape, according to rights groups and U.N. investigators.
Myanmar’s security forces have denied allegations that they took part in what the United States has described as “ethnic cleansing.”