Japan Stands Beside the Rohingya amid the Fund Crisis

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With the Rohingya repatriation being further delayed six years into the crisis and similar crises developing in other parts of the globe, UN agencies’ assistance has been facing a sharp decline for the Rohingyas. 

In 2017, more than 700,000 Rohingya fled to Bangladesh to escape the army’s massacre and brutal repression in Rakhine State, Myanmar. More than 1.2 million Rohingyas live in various camps in Cox’s Bazar and Bhasanchar in Bangladesh. The WFP had to reduce its food aid for the Rohingya people in the Cox’s Bazar camps from $12 to $10 in March due to a shortage of resources and from $10 to $8 in June. 

Families are forced to make difficult decisions to make ends meet due to having less food to eat, which makes them even more exposed to violence, exploitation, and human trafficking. 

When a crisis is said to as prolonged, the donors’ attention typically switches five years after the disaster. The industrialised nations felt forced to aid those nations since critical needs also surfaced in other regions, such as a flood in Afghanistan, conflict in Sudan, and a refugee crisis in Venezuela. They have been obliged to reduce their internal expenditure and aid budget due to the economic hardship many nations are experiencing in the post-Covid environment and the Ukraine war. 

Against a funding problem that resulted in ration reduction in the camps, Japan has offered $4.4 million in food aid for the Rohingya community in Cox’s Bazar. It has given the Rohingya $4.4 million in life-saving food support through WFP, following the $1 million emergency food assistance in March this year. It has also shared that it will keep fostering a durable solution, including the return of refugees to Myanmar, and will engage with international agencies like the WFP to better the lives of refugees and the host communities. 

An all-weather friend? 

Japan was one of the first nations to recognise Bangladesh and became its main bilateral development partner. As a developing nation, Bangladesh greatly benefits from the relationship between Japan and Bangladesh. 

From the inception of the crisis, Japan demonstrated its sheer commitment to the Rohingya Refugees in terms of reducing the financial burden of Bangladesh. The Japanese government provided the Rohingyas with $4 million in humanitarian help at the start of the conflict in 2017. Japan gave Rohingya women, children, and vulnerable people $15.7 million in emergency humanitarian aid in the same year. UNICEF thanked the Japanese government and people at the time for providing this crucial support, which allowed the organisation to function effectively throughout the first six months of the crisis. 

Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono asked Myanmar to return Rohingyas to Bangladesh, who had fled abuses in January 2018. With this assistance from Japan, UNHCR aimed to increase educational and livelihood initiatives for the Rohingyas in Bhasan Char. The Japanese government has already given UNHCR, other UN organisations, and NGOs in Bangladesh more than $204 million in help. 

Following that, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) received 5.7 million US dollars from the Japanese government to help the Rohingya community in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar and Bhasan Char with housing and living circumstances. The lack of adequate shelter, access to healthcare, latrines, and clean water were severe issues for the Rohingya and host populations in Cox’s Bazar. 

Building on prior programming, IOM and Japan offered life-saving assistance to both the host community and the Rohingya, enhancing social cohesion and human security. This involved providing shelter, disaster risk reduction, health facilities, water, sanitation, and hygiene, among other vital services. 

Why is this significant? 

Right now, approximately 1.2 million Rohingyas are being housed in several camps throughout Bangladesh. Since the Rohingyas took refuge in Bangladesh, the United Nations has been providing humanitarian assistance to the Rohingyas under the Joint Response Plan (JRP). This aid amount may decrease further in the coming days if no new funds are raised. 

WFP has sought $1.25 billion in emergency funding from international donors this year for relief assistance. Rohingyas are worried that facilities may be further reduced due to funding shortages. However, the World Food Programme (WFP) has cut food aid to the Rohingya by about 17 per cent as donors reduced aid due to the global economic downturn and crisis. 

As food aid decreases, the Rohingyas’ life will become more difficult as there is no legal system of earning in the camps; some part of the Rohingyas staying in the camps are involved in criminal activities like drug smuggling, kidnapping for ransom, human trafficking, and extortion. 

Currently, Rohingya children and women are at high risk of becoming victims of human trafficking, which may increase in the coming days. Many Rohingyas are risking their lives trying to cross the sea to Malaysia or Indonesia, which will increase in the future. A reduction in humanitarian aid will increase the likelihood of involvement in these criminal activities and violence and instability in Rohingya camps. Bangladesh gives the Rohingya $3.6 billion annually, or $300 million monthly. This severely hampers the economy of the nation amid the global financial crisis. 

This donation from Japan arrived just in time as we were being forced to reduce food supplies for the Rohingya families. Prior to it, Japan provided $32.5 million to Bangladesh for the Rohingya refugees. Bangladesh and Japan emphasise that the ultimate answer to this dilemma for peace and security in the area is to achieve a ‘sustainable, safe, voluntary, and dignified’ return of the displaced people to Myanmar. 

The decision to provide additional support for the host communities and the displaced, including those in Bhasan Char, on top of the approximately 2.3 billion yen through international organisations in February and March 2023 and the prior support worth approximately 190 million US dollars, was announced by Prime Minister Kishida, who also reaffirmed Japan’s ongoing support for them. 

Japan has revealed its intentions to stay beside the Rohingya people amid this crisis, paving the way for a robust friendship and trust between Bangladesh and Japan. It also emphasised the growing bilateral relationship between these two nations, bolstered by the PM Hasina and Kishida Summit 2023. 

However, Japan should take the lead in enabling the voluntary return of Rohingya refugees to their country of origin as a longtime ally and development partner of Bangladesh instead of confining itself only to granting financial assistance. Japan must play a proactive role to seize the opportunity to raise this very important issue with the Myanmar side and its military whenever appropriate. 

The continual influx of Rohingya refugees into Bangladesh poses a risk to regional security because it might worsen cross-border terrorism and criminality. Japan must continue to bring up this issue with the Myanmar side and do its best to create a conducive environment for the early repatriation of Rohingyas.

– Saume Saptaparna Nath is a Research Associate at the KRF Center for Bangladesh and Global Affairs (CBGA).

Published in The Financial Express [Link]