A Rohingya man repairs his house after cyclone Mocha hit ThetKel Pyin Muslim internally displaced people (IDPs) camp near Sittwe, Rakhine State, Myanmar, 20 May 2023. EFE-EPA FILE/STRINGER

Fresh cut in food aid puts Rohingyas in danger of starvation

By Azad Majumder

Rohingya woman and a girl stand near their house after cyclone Mocha hit ThetKel Pyin Muslim internally displaced people (IDPs) camp near Sittwe, Rakhine State, Myanmar, 20 May 2023. EFE-EPA FILE/STRINGER

Dhaka, May 31 (EFE).- The World Food Programme has announced a further cut in food aid effective Thursday, putting Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh at risk of starvation.

The UN food agency last week announced the cut in food vouchers for each Rohingya in Cox’s Bazar to $8 from $10 a month from June.

The decision came days after thousands of Rohingyas lost their homes to Cyclone Mocha in mid-May.

The agency slashed food aid from $12 to $10 in March after a shortage in funding.

“Reduction of rations for genocide survivors is a shameful action of the United Nations,” Khin Maung, head of the Rohingya Youth Association, told EFE.

“We are surprised about their frequent decisions to reduce rations. We are suffering a lot. It will lead to hunger in the future if they continue doing that,” he said.

Nur Salam, a Rohingya leader, said most Rohingyas living in crowded camps in Bangladesh would be affected by the decision.

“It will be a big problem for us. Those who have family members living abroad can manage, and those who have some work opportunities inside the camp will somehow survive. The rest will go hungry,” he said.

Rohingyas are not allowed to work in Bangladesh, but some refugees assist NGOs in the camp for a lump sum.

Refugees mostly depend on aid agencies for food, shelter, treatment, and other needs.

With WFP cash vouchers, Rohingyas can buy food items from selected outlets inside the camp.

WFP, which received $111.20 million, or 34.9 percent of its total funding requirement of $318.78 million for 2023 until Wednesday, acknowledged that a cut in aid might force refugees to resort to a negative coping mechanism.

“Children may be withdrawn from school or girls offered in child marriage,” a WFP statement said on May 26.

“If refugees seek illegal employment, they face heightened risks of exploitation and abuse, and may fuel tensions between the refugees and the host community.”

Human rights activists said a cut in food aid might lead to more crimes in Rohingya camps, including drug smuggling and human trafficking.

“The reduction in food aid will inevitably increase criminal activities,” said Nur Khan, executive director of prominent Bangladeshi rights group Ain O Salish Kendra.

“We have many drug traders and a few other armed groups active in the camp. Their activities will definitely increase.”

Bangladesh authorities arrested at least 1,556 Rohingyas between Feb.14, 2021, and May 10, 2023, on charges of various crimes, including murder, kidnapping, robbery, and drug trading.

Khan said giving Rohingyas work opportunities could only bring temporary relief.

“The permanent solution to this problem lies in their repatriation to Myanmar. Until that can be done, either they must be given work opportunities or the international community continues to give them relief assistance,” said Khan.

Two attempts to repatriate the Rohingyas to Myanmar have failed, as the Rohingyas refused to return without citizenship and a guarantee of their security.

Bangladesh and Myanmar are working to start repatriation for 1,176 Rohingyas under a pilot project.

However, the attempt plunged Rohingyas into uncertainty when they found conditions unfavorable for repatriation during a recent go-and-see visit to Myanmar.

Around 774,000 Rohingyas arrived in Bangladesh following the Myanmar military campaign of persecution and violence in 2017, which the UN classified as an example of ethnic cleansing and possible genocide. EFE