Nations pledge $345 million to Rohingya response

Mark Lowcock, UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, speaks to the media, during a press briefing after the Pledging Conference for the Rohingya Refugee Crisis, at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, 23 October 2017. [Salvatore Di Nolfi/EPA/EFE]

Nations have pledged $345 million (€294 million) to care for Myanmar’s Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, an “encouraging” step in the response to the intensifying crisis, the UN said on Monday (23 October).

Many of the funds for the minority Muslim group, who have fled from violence in the northern part of Myanmar’s Rakhine state, were promised at a high-level conference in Geneva, co-hosted by the United Nations, the European Union and Kuwait.

The UN says it needs $434 million to provide support through February for the 900,000 Rohingya who have fled across the border, as well as the 300,000 local Bangladeshis hosting the influx.

UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock called the haul “encouraging” and praised donors who “expressed their solidarity and compassion with the families and communities in need.”

Some of the money was promised in the run up to the conference and Lowcock said he expected more commitments in the coming days.

A group of nations had also offered $50 million of in-kind donations.

Lowcock stressed the importance of countries actually delivering the cash, with the UN having confronted unfulfilled pledges in past crises.

“Pledges are one thing,” he told reporters. “It’s really important to us that the pledges are translated as soon as possible into contributions”.

Among the 35 nations and blocs that promised funds were Britain ($63 million) the EU ($42 million), the United States ($38 million) and Sweden ($24 million), according to the UN.

With no apparent resolution to the crisis in sight, Lowcock noted that there may be a need to raise more funds again next year.

The head of the International Organisation for Migration, William Lacey Swing, called the wave of Rohingya fleeing to Bangladesh “the fastest growing refugee crisis in the world.”

“It is, in its own way, a nightmare,” he added.

Bangladesh’s government and the community in the Cox’s Bazar area on the Myanmar border have been broadly praised for the response to Rohingya refugee influx, notably for keeping the border open.

More than 600,000 Rohingya refugees have headed for Bangladesh in huge numbers since late August after militant attacks on Myanmar security forces in Rakhine sparked a major army crackdown on the community likened to ethnic cleansing by the UN.

Rohingyas have been systematically deprived of basic rights over decades in majority Buddhist Myanmar.

In the latest crackdown, Myanmar’s security forces have fired indiscriminately on unarmed civilians, including children, and committed widespread sexual violence, according to UN investigators.

Bangladesh says arrivals untenable’

Bangladesh faces an untenable situation because nearly 1 million Rohingya refugees have fled across its border from violence in Myanmar and its government should let them return home, Bangladesh’s UN envoy said yesterday.

“This is an untenable situation,” Shameem Ahsan, Bangladesh’s ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, told the UN pledging conference. “Despite claims to the contrary, violence in Rakhine state has not stopped. Thousands still enter on a daily basis.”

Vital humanitarian aid must continue, Ahsan said, adding: “It is of paramount importance that Myanmar delivers on its recent promises and work towards safe, dignified, voluntary return of its nationals back to their homes in Myanmar.”

Bangladesh’s interior minister was in Yangon on Monday for talks to find a “durable solution”, he said.

But Myanmar continued to issue “propaganda projecting Rohingyas as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh”, Ahsan said, adding: “This blatant denial of the ethnic identity of Rohingyas remains a stumbling block.”

Myanmar considers the Rohingya to be stateless, although they trace their presence in the country back generations.

Filippo Grandi, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, later told journalists that the two countries had begun talks on “repatriation”.

Any return must be “voluntary, safe and dignified” and conducive conditions have to be “recreated” in Rakhine, he said. “This must include a solution to the question of citizenship, or rather lack thereof for the Rohingya community,” Grandi said.

Khaled al-Jarallah, deputy foreign minister of Kuwait which co-hosted the meeting, called on Myanmar authorities to “cease the practice of stripping the Rohingya minority of their right of citizenship, which as a result deprives them of the right to property and employment”.

Jordan’s Queen Rania visited Rohingya refugee camps on Monday and called for a stronger response from the international community to the plight of the Rohingya who fled to Bangladesh to escape “systematic persecution” in Myanmar.

“One has to ask, why is the plight of this Muslim minority group being ignored? Why has the systematic prosecution been allowed to play out for so long?” she asked after touring the camps.

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