Bangladesh spends U.S. $300 million monthly to host Rohingya refugees, its foreign minister said Friday, explaining why the country would no longer take in more people from the stateless group, as Dhaka had announced at the United Nations last week.
About 745,000 Rohingya Muslims crossed the border into southeastern Bangladesh to escape a brutal military crackdown in Myanmar’s Rakhine state in 2017, in what U.N. and U.S. officials have described as ethnic cleansing.
“We won’t host anymore Rohingya. There are 192 more countries in the world, they should also host some Rohingyas. Why only us?” Bangladeshi Foreign Minister A.K. Abdul Momen told BenarNews on Friday in Dhaka.
“We are spending about $300 million per month for them,” he said, echoing previous statements from other officials. That amount translates to a staggering $3.6 billion annually.
When asked whether all of this cash was Bangladesh’s own money, Momen replied that it was a mixture of local funds and foreign aid. However, he said, he could not immediately give a breakdown of the sources of money that Bangladesh was spending on Rohingya.
On Feb. 28 in New York, Foreign Secretary Shahidul Haque told the U.N. Security Council that the humanitarian crisis in the southeast and an impasse over repatriating the refugees had gone from “bad to worse.”
The idea of long-term hosting by Bangladesh was “not at all a viable proposition,” Haque told the council.
“Bangladesh would no longer be in a position to accommodate more people from Myanmar,” he said. “Is Bangladesh paying the price for being responsive and responsible in showing empathy to a persecuted minority population of a neighboring country?”
Under a proposed repatriation scheme, which was supposed to start in November last year, Dhaka was to hand over the first batch of potential returnees from among 2,260 initially identified for being returned to Myanmar at a transit point along their common border.
But the plan did not go through after U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet warned that refugees who had been identified for repatriation were gripped with “terror and panic” on hearing that they could be asked to return against their will, even though the program was supposed to be voluntary.
Haque told the Security Council that despite his government’s efforts, “not a single Rohingya has volunteered to return to Rakhine due to the absence of a conducive environment there.”
“Even if repatriation began today, it would take another 12 years (to finish the repatriation), based on an estimated 300 Rohingyas returning every day,” Haque said.
Last year in New York, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina told the U.N. General Assembly that about 1.1 million Rohingya Muslims were in Bangladeshi refugee camps, where they were receiving food, clothing, healthcare and security, among other services. That number included more than 300,000 Rohingya who entered Bangladesh during earlier bouts of violence in Myanmar.
In Teknaf, a sub-district of southeastern Cox’s Bazar district, which lies along the border with Rakhine state, the Bangladeshi border guard said it was stopping new Rohingya arrivals from crossing over.
“No new Rohingyas are being allowed to enter [across] the border,” Lt. Col. Aasadud-Zaman Chowdhury, chief of the frontier police’s Teknaf 2 Battalion, told BenarNews on Friday.