Covid-19 Fallout: Global funding for Rohingyas likely to drop

The global funding for the Rohingyas may fall short as the non-government organisations’ (NGO) activities have drastically decreased amid coronavirus pandemic.

Besides, there might be shortage of funding in the future due to the pandemic-related economic recession.

According to the UN Refugee Agency, a total of $308.7 million was sought from the international community for the Rohingyas for 2020, but only $87 million or 27 percent of that has been funded as of May.

Humayun Kabir, former ambassador and vice president of Bangladesh Enterprise Institute, said funding for the Rohingyas would be more challenging in the coming days as the donor countries would focus on rebuilding their own economy after the pandemic.

“The situation of the Rohingyas is likely to be complicated given the reality of the pandemic and its impact on the economy,” he told The Daily Star yesterday.

Another challenge is the intensification of the fighting between the Arakan Army and the Myanmar military as far as the repatriation is concerned, he said.

According to a Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG) report, the armed conflict in Western Myanmar is currently the most serious among the country’s decades-old internal wars.

After the conflict escalated significantly in early 2019, the government ordered a tough military response and designated the Arakan Army as a terrorist organisation.

“These measures have exacerbated the grievances underlying the conflict and made a negotiated end to the fighting more difficult to attain,” the ICG said.

Dhaka University International Relations Prof Imtiaz Ahmed said, “Myanmar may use the fighting as pretext for not repatriating the Rohingyas. If Myanmar does it, then it is the time for the international community to intervene.”

He said it was the time for deployment of international forces to stop the fighting and ensure safety and improve the conditions in Rakhine.

Both Prof Imtiaz Ahmed and Humayun Kabir said that the pressure on Myanmar for Rohingya repatriation must continue.

Several efforts of repatriation has failed over the last three years as the Rohingyas said there is no guarantee of safety, citizenship and freedom of movement in Rakhine.

“If Covid is shown by Myanmar an issue blocking repatriation, Bangladesh should demand that Myanmar clear all the names of the Rohingyas for repatriation during this time,” said Humayun Kabir.

Myanmar should also amend its laws as required by the Rohingyas for their equal rights back in Rakhine and provide a roadmap of granting them citizenship, the international relations analyst said.

Meanwhile, a vessel with about 500 Rohingyas has been stranded in the Malaysian sea for about two months, waiting to reach the shores of the Southeast Asian country.

They might have started the journey from the coast of Bangladesh sometime in March.

Chris Lewa, coordinator of The Arakan Project, said a vessel sailed from the Bay of Bengal with more than 800 on board in early April.

Then the smugglers divided the passengers into two boats. One of these boats with 269 on board was rescued off Malaysia on June 7 and the other one is still at the sea.

Khin Maung, a coordinator of Free Rohingya Coalition, said he heard from the relatives of those in the sea that traffickers were demanding money for releasing them to Malaysian coast.

“I am extremely worried over the situation of the Rohingya at the sea – if they are starving to death. Malaysia says it won’t accept the Rohingyas because of the coronavirus pandemic,” he told The Daily Star.

“How can human life be so cheap and pushed into sheer uncertainty?” he asked, comparing the situation of the Rohingyas at the sea to the rest of their community considering the sheer uncertainty they are facing.

Maung, also the executive director of Rohingya Youth Association, said they had been living in Rakhine and it was nothing less than a prison.

They had no freedom of movement, basic rights like health and education and then they began another camp life in Cox’s Bazar where they were too restricted since they fled a brutal military campaign in 2017.

“Now, with the coronavirus pandemic, we are under lockdown. There are huge risks of coronavirus infection in the congested camps. We fear many may die in the camps,” he said.

Until June 18, a total of 42 Rohingyas have tested positive and three have died.

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