The Visit of the State Minister of Foreign Affairs of the UK to the Rohingya Camps: What Is New for the Rohingyas?

The Rohingya refugee crisis has attracted the focus of global leaders, policymakers from various countries, and concerned regional and international groups over the years. Many of these individuals have visited the refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar to witness the situation firsthand. These trips repeatedly lead to statements of concern, commitments to take action, expressed optimism for improving the lives of those struggling in the camps and assisting their peaceful repatriation to Myanmar. Despite numerous trips and assurances, the wretched fate of the Rohingya community appears to be persisting. The plight of the Rohingya people remains largely unchanged. In fact, because of overcrowding, lack of access to basic necessities, fund crisis, and rising tensions between the local communities and the Rohingyas, the situation has gotten worse in recent years. This calls into question the rationale of these trips and the capacity of world leaders to significantly improve the condition of these refugees. One of the most recent visits was made by the state minister for Foreign Affairs of the UK on March 11 to the Rohingya camps in Ukhiya upazila of Cox’s Bazar, along with a four-member delegation

The state of Rohingya community in the camps

The state of the Rohingya community in the camps is an ongoing tale of struggle and hardship. Since the 2017 crisis in Myanmar, where a military crackdown led to the mass exodus of Rohingya people into Bangladesh, they are living in the camps in Cox’s Bazar and continue to face significant challenges with daily life. Typical situations in refugee camps like overcrowded conditions, lack of adequate sanitation and hygiene facilities, limited access to clean water and food, and inadequate healthcare, all contribute to their difficult living conditions.

All the camps are overcrowded. The camps, which were initially built to accommodate a much smaller number of displaced people, are now home to over a million Rohingya people. This has led to extremely cramped living conditions, with families forced to live in small, flimsy, makeshift shelters made of bamboo and plastic sheets, which offer little protection. Access to education is a challenge for many Rohingya children, with limited opportunities for formal schooling. Resource exhaustion is also a significant issue for refugees in the camps. The high population density, combined with limited access to clean water, food, and sanitation facilities, has put a significant strain on resources. This has led to a lack of access to basic necessities, such as clean water and adequate food, which has resulted in a higher risk of malnutrition and starvation. In addition, the Rohingyas also face significant security threats. There have also been reports of gender-based violence, trafficking, and exploitation in the camps, which have raised concerns about their safety and well-being, particularly women and children. Moreover, reports of attempts from the radicalized groups to exploit the desperate situation of the people further exacerbating the security situation and their vulnerability.

The recent incidents of fire in the camps have further exacerbated the already dire living conditions for the Rohingya refugees. A fire broke out on 5th March, which burned down almost 2,000 houses and left around 12,000 people homeless. Another significant challenge the refugees are facing is the recent reduction in the ration budget for food assistance by the World Food Programme (WFP). The WFP slashed the ration budget from $12 per person per month to $10, which has raised concerns about the potential for increased malnutrition and starvation among the refugee population. This reduction in food assistance comes at a time when resources in the camps are already stretched thin, and the population is facing significant challenges.

The Rohingya crisis and the role of UK

The international community has a significant role in dealing with the Rohingya people in the camps, particularly in financing the support system through aid. The UK has been one of the spearheading allies of Bangladesh in tackling the crisis. The UK’s response to the Rohingya refugee crisis has been focused on providing humanitarian assistance, diplomatic efforts, putting economic sanctions and travel ban on key perpetrators in Myanmar. The UK government has been vocal in its condemnation of the violence against the Rohingya and has called for a peaceful resolution to the crisis.

Since 2017 the UK government has provided more than £350 million in humanitarian assistance to support the Rohingya refugees. This assistance has included food, shelter, healthcare, and other basic necessities. At the same time, it has been diplomatically active in efforts to address the Rohingya crisis, both through the United Nations and through bilateral engagement with Myanmar’s government. It has called for an end to the violence against the Rohingya and for the Myanmar government to take steps to address the underlying issues that led to the crisis. It also played a role in providing refuge to Rohingya refugees. In addition, the UK has announced targeted sanctions against the military, its leaders and military-linked conglomerates from which the junta can possibly be benefitted. It has also been involved in supporting efforts to hold those responsible for the violence against the Rohingya accountable. It has contributed to the establishment of an independent UN mechanism to collect and preserve evidence of crimes committed in Myanmar, which could be used in future prosecutions.

The visit of the UK minister

On the 11th of March UK’s minister of foreign affairs–Indo-Pacific, Anne-Marie Trevelyan led a four-member delegation visited the Rohingya camps in Ukhiya upazila of Cox’s Bazar. Visiting Bangladesh for the first time in her official capacity, she wanted to strengthen the long-standing ties between UK and Bangladesh and observe first-hand how UK support is providing a lifeline to Rohingya people in the camps. She met the agencies that are all working at an incredible pace to help Rohingyas to rebuild their burnt homes and announced a new package of funding of £5.26 million to support. Of the total £5.26 million, £4.26 million will be distributed through the World Food Programme which will likely help to feed 449,000 people. The rest of the £1 million UK support will go to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) for pressure cookers that can help to reduce the consumption of cooking gas. She also reiterated that the UK continues to push for a long-term solution that will enable the Rohingya to return to Myanmar on a safe, voluntary and dignified basis.

What is New for the Rohingyas?

Since the very start of the crisis in 2017, such high-level visits have been a frequent occurrence to the camps with numerous high-level visits with ranks like presidents, prime ministers, ministers and high ranked officials from various global governing bodies. Although the most common feature of such visits has been the promise of providing more aid to cushion their life at camps a little better and endeavors to ensure their safe return to Myanmar, much of it came out as just another unfruitful political rhetoric that leaders do to their people. The Rohingya crisis is losing global attention. The ongoing Ukraine-Russia war has shifted the global focus from the Rohingya crisis and that has led to a reduction in funding and support for the refugees, who are now facing an acute funding crisis. While Ukraine received almost $17 billion in 2022 in bilateral humanitarian aid, more than half of all international humanitarian aid, the Joint Response Plan (JRP) 2023 for the Rohingya community has only received 40% funding of its intended $876 million. In face of such a crisis the WFP was forced to reduce the food budget for the Rohingya by 17% from the start of the March and the community now faces threat of starvation and malnutrition. On a specific account for the UK the aid for the Rohingya refugee crisis has gone down by over 80% in this year, since 2020. Thus the 5.26 million aid does not reduce the headache for the community, as it is only a fraction of what is actually needed. On the other hand, the promise of repatriation has become the old wine in a new bottle for the people as there has not been any visible improvement in this direction and the international efforts seem to not take it with the urgency that it requires to solve the problem.

Concluding remarks

While the visits of world leaders to the Rohingya camps serve to highlight the severity of the crisis and bring much-needed attention to the issue, there is a growing sense of frustration among the Rohingyas and their advocates about the lack of tangible results. Many of the promises made by these leaders, such as increased aid and support for the Rohingya people, are yet to materialize or have been insufficient to address the scale of the crisis. Although efforts have been made to provide assistance and support, the scale of the crisis and the challenges faced by them require sustained, long-term solutions. The hope is that the UK minister’s visit does not end in the same direction. It is imperative that the international community continues to provide support to the Rohingyas and work towards finding a durable solution to the crisis.

– Wahid Uzzaman Sifat is a Research Intern at the KRF Center for Bangladesh and Global Affairs (CBGA).

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