One year passed since the beginning of the exodus of an estimated 706,000 Rohingya refugees from Rakhine State, Myanmar to Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh following what the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights called a “textbook example” of ethnic cleansing. The newly arrived Rohingya in Cox’s Bazar have joined hundreds of thousands who were part of previous waves of displacement from Myanmar. The 20th and 21st centuries have seen multiple waves of movement of Rohingya from Rakhine State to Cox’s Bazar and back, but the 2017 exodus was by far the largest.1 The pace of new arrivals has made this crisis the fastest growing refugee crisis in the world and resulted in settlements with the highest concentrations of refugees in the world. Moreover, the Cox’s Bazar area is comprised of local communities with high poverty rates that have also been greatly impacted by the refugee crisis. 2 The people and the Government of Bangladesh have welcomed the Rohingya refugees with generosity and open borders. The Government’s generosity in hosting over one million refugees is exceptional and is particularly laudable in a time where refugee protection is eroding, and many countries are building barriers to prevent refugees from seeking both the assistance they require, and the protection guaranteed under international law.
The speed and scale of the influx has been met with strong support from the humanitarian community – today over one hundred local, national and international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are responding to the crisis alongside the Government and UN agencies. They are delivering protection, food, water, shelter, healthcare and other life-saving assistance. However, one year into the crisis, the humanitarian community is still delivering emergency aid largely in the framework of “temporary” assistance, which considerably falls short of meeting minimum international humanitarian standards (Core Humanitarian Standard and Sphere).
The only way to end this crisis is to find a political solution in Myanmar and ensure conditions for safe, dignified, voluntary and sustainable return of refugees to Myanmar. “I want to go back in Myanmar if possible. If the United Nations and others come forward and help resolve the unrest and killings, and help us go back with proper identity and dignity, then I will go back. We want to be assured by them that they won’t assault us anymore.” Noor Kajol3 While refugees await desired return home, the response to their basic needs in Bangladesh is only 34% funded4 . It is essential that the government and people of Bangladesh are supported to provide both short and medium-term assistance to Rohingya and their host communities. At the same time, all stakeholders in the humanitarian response in Bangladesh must step up efforts in meeting minimum international humanitarian standards in both refugee protection and humanitarian assistance.
Going forward into the second year of the response in Bangladesh, the overarching priorities of NGOs active in the response include:
(1) Respecting and upholding the rights of refugees coupled with meeting their protection needs;
(2) ‘Putting people first’, that is making refugees and host communities in Bangladesh participate in constructing safe and dignified outcomes for their future;
(3) A whole-of-society approach to ensure that the humanitarian community, including local organizations, can use their expertise to maximize impact now and in future.
Realizing these priorities will require in particular:
✓ Considerable increase in funding of the crisis by donors – governments, private sector, NGOs, individuals – worldwide. Approx. USD 630 million is needed by the end of the year, for both critical aid to refugees, and also to affected host communities and environmental restoration.
✓ Strengthened efforts in accountability to affected populations, including improved quality, effective communication and feedback mechanisms, as well as ensuring aid is delivered in a safe and dignified manner.
✓ Widening humanitarian space by the Government of Bangladesh to further enable operations of NGOs delivering life-saving assistance to refugees and their host communities. Reducing delays in granting permissions for humanitarian projects, in registering NGOs and in granting visas for humanitarian workers, coupled with simplified and consistent government procedures relevant to the implementation of humanitarian activities will greatly improve the quality of the response.
✓ Review of the humanitarian response and its coordination architecture over the past year. This review should consider how the coordination mechanisms have performed given the complexity and scale of the response, which was designated by both NGOs and UN agencies as a Level 3-type emergency, in order to allow learning from the past and improving for the future. This should be done in a participatory manner and in consistence with IASC guidelines and best practices.
✓ Allowing both humanitarian and medium-term interventions that will continue to meet basic needs and also include giving every refugee child free and adequate education, access to livelihood opportunities including vocational training.
✓ Granting freedom of movement, enabling refugees to live with dignity.
✓ Scale-up of assistance to host communities. The response must mitigate the impact of the refugee influx on the Bangladeshi communities5 and improve their ability to cope with the strains of hosting nearly a million people who are forced to rely upon humanitarian aid for their basic needs.
We remain committed to work with the Government of Bangladesh and the rest of the humanitarian community in country. At the same time, following the will of refugees we assist, we urge the Government of Myanmar to create conditions for their safe, dignified, voluntary and sustainable return.