World Bank Loans to Bangladesh for the Rohingyas: The Global Lender Should Provide More Grants for the Rohingyas!

96

For the last seven years, the Rohingya crisis has posed significant challenges for Bangladesh.  Bangladesh has showcased absolute leadership while tackling this humanitarian crisis and strategically secured a substantial loan and grant from the World Bank since 2018.  The country has had to accommodate nearly a million Rohingya refugees fleeing persecution from neighboring Myanmar. In response to this pressing issue, Bangladesh has aimed to address the crisis in collaboration with international institutions. Loans and grants from the World Bank are intended to enhance the living conditions of the refugees, provide critical services, and support the host communities lifting the burden off of the country’s shoulders. In reality, it adds to debt burden of Bangladesh. This new move of Bangladesh to receive loans from the World Bank reflects bankruptcy of global donors in supporting the Rohingyas. However, securing loans is a strategic choice that underscores Bangladesh’s commitment to managing the crisis effectively.

On May 28, 2024, the Board of Executive Directors at the World Bank authorized two projects with a combined budget of $700 million to develop social and disaster resilience and offer basic services to the displaced Rohingyas in Bangladesh and also the host communities. The $350 million Host and Rohingya Enhancement of Lives Project and the $350 million Inclusive Services and Opportunities for Host Community and Displaced Rohingya Population Project aim to support the host communities in Bangladesh and the Rohingya people. The World Bank will provide financing under the IDA20 Window for Host Communities and Refugees to assist the Rohingya community. For at least 980,000 members of the Rohingya and host communities, the Inclusive Services and Opportunities for Host Communities and Displaced Rohingya Population (ISO) Project will expand on current investments in livelihoods and essential health, nutrition, family planning, gender-based violence response, and prevention services. The project’s other goal is to promote the education of 300,000 Rohingya children under the age of twelve by investing in human capital development.

History of Bangladesh and World Bank Cooperation on Rohingyas

The two projects follow the World Bank’s previous support of hundreds of millions of loans and grants since the onset of the crisis. When Rohingya people fled violence, the World Bank was one of the first development organizations to partner with Bangladesh in accommodating such a huge population. They provided some much-needed assistance, like clean water, safe infrastructure, sanitation and collective disaster management, social protection, education, and employment opportunities. The World Bank has been a true friend to Bangladesh in tackling the Rohingya crisis and the country has been among the largest recipients of the World Bank’s interest-free credits.

In 2019, the World Bank (WB) approved $165 million to help Bangladesh provide relief to Rohingya refugees in the country. The grant was given to help Bangladesh provide basic services and build disaster and social resilience for the Rohingyas who have fled violence in Myanmar. Through these new and existing projects, the World Bank is not only helping the Rohingya community, but they are also assisting the local communities of Bangladesh in tackling the burden put on them because of the displaced populations.  These collaborations between the bank and the country have led to the building of essential infrastructure, strengthening emergency responses, prioritizing women and children, and supporting host communities. In 2021, Bangladesh received another $590 million in financial assistance from the World Bank to meet the needs of the displaced Rohingya population.

Bangladesh Leadership in Tackling the Rohingya Crisis

Bangladesh played a leading and strategic role in securing these grants and loans from organizations like the World Bank. The country has effectively assessed the situation at hand and rightfully deemed it necessary to sustain a productive and collaborative partnership with the World Bank to properly harness the enormous challenge facing the country. The World Bank has also time and again appreciated and recognized Bangladesh’s generosity in supporting nearly one million Rohingyas. Bangladesh understands that long-term planning and sustainable solutions are key to reaching a mutually beneficial future. Bangladesh is focusing on meeting short-term, urgent needs as well as is fully committed to putting forward sustainable solutions on the table to address this complex crisis and has also made it very clear that the well-being of both the Rohingya and host communities is a primary priority. Bangladesh has encouraged development partners like the World Bank and other developed countries to invest, protect, and use their human capital to support facilities like education, primary healthcare, nutrition, family planning, and gender-based violence response for Rohingyas.

Without collective international action, it is nearly impossible for Bangladesh to tackle the humanitarian crisis at hand. Bangladesh has already done more than enough. The country is not bound to provide endless support and shoulder the enormous financial burdens. It is the responsibility of the entire international community. Bangladesh is a growing economy and at this point, it is not possible for the country to get more loans. What the country needs to deal with this challenge is international grants and foreign aid, not loans. The world cannot just sit by and watch Bangladesh shoulder this burden alone. Especially countries with influence and stake in Myanmar need to step up. Countries need to use their influence on Myanmar authority and develop a framework for the safe and dignified return of Rohingyas to their home and bring Myanmar officials responsible for the persecution of Rohingyas to justice.

The pattern of the current inflow of aid, loans, and grants focuses on immediate and short-term solutions but neglects long-term resolution. The international community should also focus on ensuring justice for the Rohingyas, including their safe return to Myanmar. Bangladesh has been greatly affected by hosting such a huge population. So the global community has moral and legal responsibility to support Bangladesh’s efforts towards the mitigating the conditions of the Rohingyas.  They need to meet the needs of both refugees and host communities. More aid, grants, and loans from development institutions like the World Bank and Asian Development Bank are necessary. Development partners like the World Bank need to look at “beyond aid” options like trade concessions and private sector investment. Bangladesh can also be offered extended duty-free access to markets like the EU and reinstatement of trade privileges by the US. There is also a need for renewed efforts on the regional level like SAARC and BIMSTEC to promote trade and deal with the Rohingya crisis multilaterally.

Ironically, some global actors such as the World Bank, USA and EU advocate local integration of the Rohingyas which is utterly unrealistic and unjustified. Bangladesh rejected such kind of proposal and argued integration is highly impractical due to the limited resources and high population density of the country. This will also heighten social conflicts between Rohingyas and host communities. Bangladesh wants and prefers the safe repatriation of Rohingya to Myanmar. There is no alternative to the repatriation of Rohingyas. Integrating the Rohingya community is not even an option for Bangladesh. The integration of Rohingyas into Bangladesh will also disincentivize Myanmar from taking them back. It is the right of Rohingya to return to their homeland Myanmar and a proposal contrary to that will potentially violate that right. The World Bank and the international community should create pressure on Myanmar to accept the Rohingyas back. The international community should accelerate its strategic and financial support in the form of grants not ‘loans’ to Bangladesh in managing the crisis.

– Tahia Afra Jannati is a Research Intern at the KRF Center for Bangladesh and Global Affairs (CBGA).

[Read Full Briefs as a Pdf]