PART I: OVERVIEW AND 2019 RESPONSE STRATEGY
Overview of the Crisis and Needs
- The Rohingya people have faced decades of systematic discrimination, statelessness and targeted violence in Rakhine State, Myanmar. Such persecution has forced Rohingya women, girls, boys and men into Bangladesh for many years, with signiicant spikes following violent attacks in 1978, 1991-1992, and again in 2016. Yet it was August 2017 that triggered by far the largest and fastest refugee inlux into Bangladesh. Since then, an estimated 745,000 Rohingya—including more than 400,000 children—have led into Cox’s Bazar. The immediate cause of their light was described by the UN-mandated Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar as a “widespread and systematic attack on [civilians]” including “murder, imprisonment, enforced disappearance, torture, rape, sexual slavery and other forms of sexual violence, persecution, and enslavement” with “elements of extermination and deportation” as well as “systematic oppression and discrimination [that] may also amount to the crime of apartheid.”
The Government of Bangladesh has kept its borders open to leeing Rohingya and leads the humanitarian response. The people of Bangladesh continue to show exceptional hospitality in the face of human tragedy on a massive scale. In keeping with its national policies, the Government of Bangladesh refers to these Rohingya as “Forcibly Displaced Myanmar Nationals” in the present context. The UN system refers to this population as Rohingya refugees, in line with the applicable international framework for protection and solutions, as well as the resulting accountabilities for the countries of origin and asylum in addition to the international community as a whole. These terms refer to the same population.
As of January 2019, over 900,000 stateless Rohingya refugees reside in Ukhiya and Teknaf Upazilas. The vast majority lives in 34 extremely congested camps. The largest single site, the KutupalongBalukhali Expansion Site, hosts approximately 626,500 Rohingya. While most arrived between August and December 2017, arrivals have continued since then: more than 16,000 Rohingya have arrived since January 2018.2 From the outset of the crisis, the Government of Bangladesh has saved the lives of nearly one million Rohingya refugees / Forcibly Displaced Myanmar Nationals by keeping its borders open and leading the humanitarian response in close collaboration with the humanitarian community. In support of government eforts, the humanitarian community rapidly scaled up operations to provide life-saving protection and assistance to both Rohingya and Bangladeshis in afected host communities.
More than one year into this multifaceted collaborative response, the situation has gradually begun to stabilize. Basic assistance has been provided, living conditions in the camps have improved and disaster risk mitigation measures have been largely successful. The environmental impact of the inlux has been reduced, including by addressing the demand for irewood through provision of liquid petroleum gas (LPG) as an alternative cooking fuel. The prevalence of Global Acute Malnutrition, at emergency levels in late 2017, has dropped below the emergency threshold (from 19% to 12%), food security indicators have improved, immunization coverage has grown to 89%, and women delivering in health facilities has risen from 22% to 40%.3 These and other statistics reveal increases in the target populations’ access to and trust in service delivery — a trust that must be carefully nurtured in the next stage of the response.
Despite progress, the Rohingya remain in an extremely precarious situation. The root causes of their plight in Myanmar have not been addressed and their future is yet uncertain. A 2018 agreement between UNHCR, UNDP and the Government of Myanmar was signed with the aim to create conditions conducive to return. In the meantime, these refugees / Forcibly Displaced Myanmar Nationals are compelled to rely upon government support and humanitarian aid — as their vulnerabilities are aggravated by each new day of exile. These vulnerabilities extend across sectors. For example, the entire refugee population received basic emergency shelter kits to help them survive 2018’s rainy season; they now require more robust and safer shelters. Around 860,000 refugees regularly receive minimum food assistance, yet only 240,000 have opportunities to diversify their diet beyond the minimum package of rice, lentils and oil. These opportunities must be expanded to ensure their nutrition and health. Approximately 50% of pre-primary and primary learners — as well as 97% of youth and adolescents — lack access to quality education or learning opportunities. The power of education to break the cycle of poverty, violence and injustice has been well proven. Rohingya refugee children and youth need better access to learning opportunities to ensure their capacity to maximize whatever solutions materialize for themselves and their families. Similarly, continued investments into WASH, health and protection services are also vital.
Refugees’ immediate humanitarian needs are compounded by the extreme traumas that often preceded or characterized their displacement. The UN independent fact-inding mission concluded that the “scale, brutality and systematic nature” in Rakhine State of “rape, gang-rape, sexual slavery, forced nudity, sexual humiliation, mutilation and sexual assault […] frequently followed by the killing of victims” indicate “a deliberate strategy to intimidate, terrorise or punish a civilian population […].”4 Rohingya survivors also bear the burden of uncertainty regarding their future prospects for a safe return to Myanmar. This context generates considerable anxiety and distress, with related consequences for their trust in external actors. Their yet unmet mental health and psychosocial needs remain critical. In addition, the daily strain of their predicament, at both the individual and community levels, is exacerbated by their limited access to education and livelihoods. Although refugees continue to demonstrate solidarity and engage in eforts to improve their situation, a more focused response is required to meet the needs and mental well-being of the most vulnerable among them — particularly for the elderly, persons with disabilities, women and children at risk as well as survivors of violence.
Improving access to and the quality of protection and assistance is vital with regard to all refugees, and for adolescent girls and women in particular. Across the camps in 2018, consistent reports of gender-based violence and abuse underscore the need to strengthen gender-based violence (GBV) prevention mechanisms and to increase GBV case management, counter-traicking programming and psychosocial support for children and adults. Community-based protection interventions and eforts to ensure safety and security in the camps, including basic requirements such as lighting, presence of law enforcement authorities and access to justice, require continuous strengthening by all actors in 2019.
There is an urgent need for robust, family-based alternative care arrangements for unaccompanied and separated children (UASC), family tracing and reuniication as well as support to foster care families. Recent research5 provides new insight into the experiences of orphaned and separated Rohingya children, and has conirmed that an overwhelming number of children were separated from their primary caregivers during attacks and that they either witnessed or have strong reason to believe that their parent or caregiver did not survive. This reinforces the need for mental health and psychosocial support for children and their caregivers and for support to alternative care arrangements and family tracing and reuniications.
The joint Government of Bangladesh-UNHCR veriication exercise started in mid-2018 and will continue in 2019. This exercise forms an integral part of moving from the initial emergency phase to a more sustainable response. The results of the veriication exercise will provide the Government with a better overview of the displaced population as well as much needed identity documentation for the refugees / Forcibly Displaced Myanmar Nationals themselves. It will also allow the response as a whole to better identify and target the most pressing needs and vulnerabilities. The outcome will provide more accurate data (disaggregated by age, sex, gender and other diversity factors such as disability).
Displacement from Myanmar has almost tripled the total population in Ukhiya and Teknaf Upazilas, with sizable consequences for the environment and livelihoods of Bangladeshi residents — as well as signiicant new development opportunities that have yet to be maximized. District infrastructure, including health and water services, have been extended by the District Government to support refugees / Forcibly Displaced Myanmar Nationals. This critical contribution to the humanitarian response places extensive pressure on those systems. The forced displacement of nearly one million vulnerable people from Myanmar has had a signiicant impact on fragile forest and land resources. While the rapid population increase has brought notable economic opportunities to segments of the local population, the inlux has also led to higher inlation and a sharp drop in daily wages due to the increased supply of unskilled labour. There is a need to continue addressing concerns of the local population under the leadership of the Government and the local authorities.
This signiicant protection crisis is exacerbated by its location in an area prone to natural disasters.
Refugee camps and surrounding areas are especially fragile and could be decimated by severe weather events that are common in the region. It is essential to continue to build on Bangladesh’s efective disaster response mechanisms and risk mitigation eforts within and around camp areas, to enhance resilience to deal with weather related events, and to ensure adequate contingency planning for natural disasters.
Congestion remains the central challenge for the refugee response across all sectors, with space constraints resulting in poor living conditions in locations at risk of landslide and lood. This context ampliies a myriad protection issues. Insuicient space combines with poor access roads into the more remote camps to restrict humanitarian capacity to provide adequate services where needed.
The insuicient open spaces and shade for essential recreation and community-based cohesion activities, to address the psychosocial needs of refugees, stile their natural coping mechanisms and can exacerbate protection risks, especially for women and children. The Government of Bangladesh has expanded the available land to a total of over 6,500 acres in the Ukhiya and Teknaf Upazilas, including 3,700 acres for the Kutupalong-Balukhali Expansion Site. The Government has also overseen the relocation of over 45,000 refugees / Forcibly Displaced Myanmar Nationals within camps or into newly extended camps in 2018. However, as the overall land resources in these areas remain scarce, it has not been possible to ease the congestion to meet basic international humanitarian standards in locations that are safe from weather exigencies, are easily accessible and provide opportunities for improved living conditions. Congestion also impacts the provision of necessary services where conidentiality is key, such as case management.
Incidents of tension and violence have been observed, both within the camps and between refugees and host communities. These incidents relect evolving social dynamics in camps and surrounding communities, which have changed signiicantly since the crisis began. Multiple factors are driving the changes, including conlicts and grievances of both individuals and groups that are exacerbated by contextual circumstances such as extremely congested conditions in the camps and limited opportunities for education and skills development. Under the Government’s leadership, the 2019 response will seek to maximize opportunities for social cohesion. This concept recognizes the importance of peaceful coexistence of communities within the camps as well as between host communities and refugees.
The Government of Bangladesh has identiied Bhashan Char – a large silt island in the Bay of Bengal – as a site to potentially relocate over 100,000 Rohingya refugees / Forcibly Displaced Myanmar Nationals from Cox’s Bazar. The Government has proposed this relocation to Bhashan Char, which is part of Noakhali District, as a means of decongesting the heavily overcrowded settlements in Cox’s Bazar. The UN continues to engage constructively with the Government of Bangladesh on the plan, seeking to ascertain its safety, suitability and desirability, including with regards to related protection considerations, the availability of essential services as well as environmental and socioeconomic sustainability. Transparent engagement with the Rohingya community is also essential to alleviate anxiety and facilitate the relocation process, if the plan goes forward. The JRP 2019 does not including planning or requirements for Bhashan Char.
Under the coordination of the Government of Bangladesh, notable advances have been made in streamlining regulatory requirements for humanitarian access. Humanitarian partners, however, continue to report operational challenges related to necessary clearances and visas. Successful mitigation measures include the introduction of the Humanitarian Pass by the Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief, which allows authorities to identify internwational staf authorized to access the camps. The Ministry of Foreign Afairs has extended the duration of programme permissions (FD7s) from three to six month periods for emergency-related activities and issuing more visas for international staf through FD7s. Operational partners continue to report operational hindrances related to complex clearance processes at diferent levels (i.e. District, Upazila and camp). The Government continues to cooperate to identify ways of maximizing eiciency while also addressing its need for monitoring and oversight. Continued joint eforts along these lines will be critical to the success of the response.
Many Rohingya refugees consistently express their desire to return to Myanmar in safety and dignity. They also articulate ongoing concerns about the security situation in Rakhine State, their lack of recognized Myanmar citizenship and other restrictions there on their rights to freedom of movement, and access to livelihoods, health and education. In addition, they emphasize the importance of being allowed to return to their places of origin or other preferred locations.
The international community is working closely with Governments on both sides of the border to assist them in working towards voluntary, safe and digniied returns — understanding that only sustainable returns can break the decades-long cycle of displacement. While the obligation to create conditions conducive to such return rests with the Government of Myanmar, humanitarian actors in Bangladesh stand ready to help. For example, the 2018 Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the Government of Myanmar, UNHCR and UNDP is intended to ensure that refugees receive information on the situation in their places of origin. The MoU provides for independent assessments conducted in villages in Northern Rakhine State and, when possible, go-and-see visits whereby refugees would visit their home villages, other areas where they may choose to return, and transit facilities in Myanmar. These assessments and visits will allow them to have objective information about reception arrangements and prospects for reintegration. When conditions permit returns, the international community will be ready to provide support through return packages and transportation assistance, in collaboration with both Governments. After the refugees go home, the international community must have unhindered access to returnees to monitor their safety and reintegration conditions. All sectors have capacity to provide relevant support in preparation for voluntary repatriation. In a scenario where large numbers of refugees would seek support with return to Myanmar, the Joint Response Plan would be reviewed and updated to ensure adequate resources are available for this purpose.
In the meantime, timely funding is required to meet life-saving and humanitarian needs, as well as to mitigate impacts on host communities. There is no doubt that the generous combined support of the Government and donors has saved lives and stabilized the situation. However, the continued urgency of the needs should not be underestimated. Resource mobilization eforts will be stepped up to assist people in need, both afected host communities and refugees / Forcibly Displaced Myanmar Nationals, as well as to support the authorities in their eforts to cope with this crisis. Financial tracking to enable a clear view of the status and priorities in the response, including in regards to donations outside of the JRP, will also be improved.
The range of actors and funding streams in the response have diversiied, galvanizing new partnerships and collaboration as envisaged by the New Way of Working6 . Given the urgent need to provide basic services, the World Bank (WB) and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) have proposed grant inancing at the request of the Government of Bangladesh. In July 2018, the WB President announced a grant of USD 480 million (including USD 80 million loan taken in charge by Canada) to the Government of Bangladesh under its IDA18 Regional Sub-Window for Refugees and Host Communities over a period of three years. The proposed ADB amount is USD 200 million to support investments in basic infrastructure to address the immediate needs of the displaced persons. The humanitarian community will continue to support the Government of Bangladesh and liaise with development actors linked to development planning in the whole of Cox’s Bazar District.
Under the leadership of the Government of Bangladesh, the humanitarian community has engaged in needs assessments, consultations and strategic planning, which has culminated in this prioritised Joint Response Plan for 2019. The process has entailed ongoing bilateral and multilateral consultations at the District level with the Deputy Commissioner (DC), the Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner (RRRC), with sectors and agencies engaging relevant line Departments and Ministries (including the Department of Public Health Engineering, the Local Government Engineering Department (LGED), the Forestry Department, the Civil Surgeon’s Oice, and the Ministry of Women’s and Children’s Afairs. Other key coordination eforts connect humanitarian actors and the Armed Force Division (AFD). At the national level, the Strategic Executive Group manages the engagement with the Ministry of Foreign Afairs and its National Task Force, as well as the Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief and relevant line Ministries on the technical issues they lead, including the nature and design of interventions, and sector standards. A more detailed needs overview can be found in the Mid-Term Review of the JRP 2018,7 undertaken in August and September, which contributed to the strategic planning process for 2019.