The Rohingya refugees rely almost entirely on food aid to survive as they are not allowed to leave the camps or formally work.

TBS Report

24 August, 2023, 02:25 pm

Last modified: 24 August, 2023, 04:10 pm

In 2017, Bangladesh saw the largest influx of the Rohingyas from neighboring Myanmar. Photo: Salahuddin Ahmed

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In 2017, Bangladesh saw the largest influx of the Rohingyas from neighboring Myanmar. Photo: Salahuddin Ahmed

In 2017, Bangladesh saw the largest influx of the Rohingyas from neighboring Myanmar. Photo: Salahuddin Ahmed

Six years after 750,000 Rohingya people fled violence in Myanmar to seek safety in Bangladesh, the health and wellbeing of more than half a million children is at risk due to recent drastic cuts in food assistance, Save the Children said.

Rohingya refugees in camps in Cox’s Bazar – the world’s largest refugee settlement – now have a third less food than five months ago – and the child rights organisation fears people will be pushed further into hunger and illness without urgent additional funding.

Rohingya refugees have told Save the Children they fear they could even starve, with one 12-year-old boy saying he has not eaten a piece of fruit in three months. Parents say they regularly go without food to feed their children and cannot sleep at night due to anxiety about how their families will survive.

Since March 2023, the World Food Programme has been forced to cut food assistance to the one million refugees in the camps by a third – to just $8 per month or $0.27 per day – due to a massive funding shortfall. The Rohingya refugees rely almost entirely on food aid to survive as they are not allowed to leave the camps or formally work.

In a recent assessment, several Rohingya refugee families told Save the Children how the US$0.27 a day only buys rice and a litre of oil and how their children are falling sick from the severe shortage of nutritious and diverse foods, like meat, eggs or vegetables.

Even before the first food ration cuts, 45% of Rohingya families were not eating a sufficient diet and malnutrition was widespread in the camps, with 40% of children experiencing stunted growth.

After six years, conditions in the squalid, overcrowded camps are dire and inhabitants are increasingly vulnerable to the impacts of the worsening climate crisis.

Nearly 37,000 Rohingya refugees saw their flimsy bamboo shelters damaged or destroyed when Cyclone Mocha struck the camps in May. Recent torrential rains and landslides destroyed even more homes and killed at least four refugees, including a child and her mother. Diseases are easily spread. Scabies cases are currently increasing with more than 40% of people affected.

Children are increasingly victims of physical violence as the lack of money and food impacts families. Physical abuse has accounted for more than a quarter of all cases reported to Save the Children’s child protection team this year. Children also live in fear of armed gangs who engage in drug smuggling and human trafficking.

Rakib (pseudonym), 12, shares a shelter with his mother Mahbuba (pseudonym) and sister. Six years ago, his father was shot and killed in the violence in Myanmar.

“We used to eat fresh fish in our meals before (the food cuts). Now we can’t even buy enough lentils. Sometimes I feel angry and sad when I see just only rice for a meal.”

Mahbuba (pseudonym) is not allowed to leave the camp to earn money and is terrified that the food assistance her family relies on could be cut even further:

“We are hearing rumours that this will be cut down to US$6 [per month] soon. If that happens, then we will have no choice except starve to death. When I go to collect rice from the food assistance outlets, I feel like crying at having such a tiny amount.”

Zia (pseudonym), 12, a Rohingya refugee child, said: “Last time I had fruit was three months ago. We can’t have good food anymore. We can only afford chicken once a month.”

Zia’s 5-year-old sister, Antora, was in hospital for 2 months after losing weight and developing an infection.

“During the two months there, they gave us nutrition support, she recovered and got well,” said their mother, Mehrun Nesa (pseudonym). “But later on, when wecould not provide her balanced diet, she fell ill again.” 

After six years as refugees, their desperation is increasing. Thousands have used people traffickers to embark on perilous boat journeys to Malaysia and Indonesia, journeys that have cost thousands of lives. There are fears that families will resort to any means to live, including child labour and child marriage.

Shaheen Chughtai, Save the Children’s country director in Bangladesh, said, “After six years, there is no end in sight for the misery Rohingya refugees are having to endure. Half a million children’s lives are at risk from the food cuts. They – and their families – have lost all hope.

“The humanitarian response is at breaking point. The UN’s 2023 humanitarian response plan for the Rohingya refugees is only 30% funded. This is a children’s crisis, and those children are in danger of becoming a lost generation,” he added.

He also said, “They cannot remain stateless and unprotected, living their lives in isolated limbo.  The international community should demonstrate it has not turned its back on them – and to properly fund the humanitarian programmes in the camps.

“Most Rohingya refugees say they want to go back to their homes when conditions allow for a safe, dignified and voluntary return with a guarantee that their rights will be upheld. Until that happens, we must move beyond using humanitarian aid as a plaster. After six years, we cannot continue with a short term approach. The international community must show now that it has not forgotten the Rohingya refugees.”

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