Virtual Fundraiser Collects $600M in Pledges to Aid Rohingya in Bangladesh, Myanmar

An international conference on Thursday to raise funds urgently needed for supporting Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh and those displaced inside Myanmar received about U.S. $600 million in pledges led by donations from the United States and the United Kingdom, according to organizers. The one-day virtual meeting helped the United Nations exceed its goal for 2020 of raising at least $1 billion among members of the international community to sustain humanitarian services for Rohingya refugees and other members of the stateless community, officials said. American officials promised $200 million and British officials another $61.2 million during the “Sustaining Support for the Rohingya Refugee Response” conference, which was hosted by the two nations along with the European Union and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The EU pledged 96 million euros ($113 million). “The international community has demonstrated its strong commitment to the humanitarian response with the announcement of funding today totaling some $600 million,” the co-hosts said in a joint statement posted on the UNHCR website. The pledges made on Thursday “significantly expands the nearly $636 million in humanitarian assistance already committed so far in 2020 under the Bangladesh Joint Response Plan and the Myanmar Humanitarian Response Plan,” they said. Other donations included $100,000 from the Philippines, $2.4 million from Finland and $591,000 from France. Organizers said the conference was needed because pledges had fallen well short of the $1 billion requested by the U.N. for this year. Announcing the U.S. donation, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo acknowledged Bangladesh’s efforts to host about 1 million Rohingya in refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar district, including 740,000 who escaped from Myanmar’s Rakhine state following a military crackdown in August 2017. Pompeo said his government would continue to “advocate for a sustainable solution that creates the conditions for the voluntary, safe, dignified, and sustainable return of Rohingya refugees.” In November 2017, leaders from Bangladesh and Myanmar had agreed to repatriate the Rohingya to their homes in Rakhine state on a voluntary basis but all efforts since then have failed. “More broadly, we continue to partner with the people of Burma, including members of other ethnic and religious minority groups, in their efforts to work toward peace and prosperity,” Pompeo said, referring to Myanmar by its old name. Thanks, concerns In Bangladesh, government officials expressed mixed views about the new financial pledges for humanitarian assistance, with some saying that having to keep hosting such a large refugee population from Myanmar was a heavy load to sustain. Addressing the virtual conference, Shahriar Alam, Bangladesh’s state minister for foreign affairs, praised Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina for saving the lives of Rohingya by opening the border and allowing them to settle in the Cox’s Bazar camps. “On the part of a small country like Bangladesh with a large population and limited resources, it was indeed a huge humanitarian gesture and a daunting task that no second country was willing to shoulder,” he said. In delivering a series of bullet points, Alam said the burden of hosting the Rohingya was becoming untenable, the Rohingya wanted to return home and the lack of repatriation progress had led to widespread frustration among the refugees. “While we appreciate the humanitarian assistance of the international community, we also call upon them to engage with Myanmar in a meaningful way to ensure the creation of a conducive environment in the Rakhine,” he said. Dil Mohammad, a Rohingya leader living in the no-man’s land area in Bandarban district, which borders Myanmar, praised Bangladesh efforts to support the refugees. “We are extremely grateful to them for their support, but this is a reality that Bangladesh cannot feed and support a huge population without the support from the international community,” he told BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service, noting that international support had enabled the refugees to have three meals a day. “Without the support from donors, we will starve. Hopefully, the international community and Bangladesh will continue supporting us,” he said. Md Delwar Hossain, director-general of the Myanmar office at Bangladesh’s foreign ministry, noted that the funds raised would be spent for Rohingya. “The international support for the host community in Ukhia and Teknaf is very little. The support they get is too little against the losses they faced for hosting the Rohingya,” he told BenarNews, referring to two sub-districts of Cox’s Bazar. “In addition to the loss of livelihood, the host community suffered huge losses because of the Rohingya – their land was occupied, roads were damaged, and trees were cut. Many of the losses are irreparable,” Hossain said. “The Rohingya arrival has resulted in massive environmental damages which are almost impossible to recoup.” Hossain, like other officials, said his goal was to help the Rohingya return home. “We want the international community to play their role to make Myanmar agree to take their people back,” he said. Meanwhile, Hamidul Haque Chowdhury, the Ukhia sub-district chairman, said the host community needed assistance as well. “The local people have been suffering more than the Rohingya, so the international community should extend a hand to the host community and listen to their grievances,” Chowdhury told BenarNews. Myanmar voices In Myanmar, Aye Lwin, a Muslim community leader and former Kofi Annan Commission member, told RFA's Myanmar Service that the Rohingya issue did not affect just one country. “The side effects of this issue will spills into surrounding countries. Because they are refugees who are in urgent need, the countries in the region should also contribute to their assistance,” he said. According to Min Lwin Oo, a human rights attorney, the COVID-19 pandemic has complicated problems for delivering aid to Rohingya because many countries now face economic hardships. “I think it would be very challenging to fulfill $1 billion needed for the refugees. Only if these funds will be used for health care, education and vocational trainings will the conditions of these refugees improve,” he told RFA’s Myanmar Service. Myanmar government and military officials did not immediately respond to RFA requests for comment. Before Thursday’s meeting, New York-based Human Rights Watch sent a letter to conference hosts calling on them to insist that Bangladesh and Myanmar officials ensure that Rohingya children are able to go to school. “This entire generation of Rohingya children is being deprived of education and there is no end in sight to the status quo of gross discrimination in both Myanmar and Bangladesh,” said Bill Van Esveld, associate children’s rights director at Human Rights Watch. “Donor governments should demand a paradigm shift to fulfill this basic human right of quality education, with the full involvement of the Rohingya community.” An injured Rohingya boy sits outside the Malaysian Field Hospital in Cox's Bazar after being treated there, Jan. 27, 2018. Credit: BenarNews Medical concerns Also on Thursday, the U.S.-based Physicians for Human Rights issued a report after interviewing 26 health workers that documents allegations of widespread sexual violence against Rohingya by Myanmar security forces during the 2017 crackdown. Those interviewed reported that their Rohingya patients had recounted gang rape, sexual humiliation and sexual and gender-based violence accompanied by other violent acts, such as beatings, shooting and killing of family members, the group said. It called for those responsible to be prosecuted to the full extent of international law. “Health workers’ testimonies of the behavioral and mental health status of Rohingya survivors tell us that these egregious acts of violence had a deep and long-lasting impact on survivors, significantly traumatizing them even years after the initial event,” said Ranit Mishori, the group’s senior medical advisor in a news release accompanying the report. One day earlier, the Malaysian government announced that it had decided to permanently close its field hospital in Cox’s Bazar after having temporarily shut it in March, when Bangladesh was hit by the coronavirus outbreak. The hospital opened to fanfare in November 2017 and was to remain open until December 2021. Officials at the time said it was the only field hospital capable of providing Level 3 services including general surgery, orthopedics, obstetrics and gynecology and x-ray services. Malaysian officials noted that six other field hospitals had opened in the Rohingya camps. Before closing, the Malaysian hospital had treated more than 108,000 patients and doctors performed more than 3,500 surgeries, according to government officials. They noted that the number of patients dropped from a one-month high of 8,763 in November 2018 to 1,690 the month before it closed. “Throughout the (Malaysian Field Hospital)’s period of operation, the medical personnel were often exposed to health and safety risks, such as the spread of COVID-19 and the threat of other infectious diseases such as hepatitis, malaria, and tuberculosis as well as the increase in criminal cases among Rohingya refugees and locals,” the Malaysian Defense Ministry said in a news release on Wednesday. Reported by BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.

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US to Join EU and UN in Donor Conference to Aid Rohingya

An international conference is to be held next week to call on countries worldwide to “help provide much needed funding” for supporting Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh and those who have been displaced by conflict inside their home state of Rakhine in Myanmar, the U.S. State Department announced Thursday. The virtual donor conference, co-hosted by the United States, United Kingdom, European Union and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, will take place on Oct. 22, officials said. “The conference will aim “to raise urgently needed funds to help vulnerable displaced Rohingya living in and outside of their native Myanmar,” the co-hosts said, according to a news release from the State Department. “The funds raised are also expected to support critical services in host communities throughout South and Southeast Asia.” They noted that less than half of the U.S. $1 billion requested by the U.N. this year had been raised. “As the world’s most generous donor, we are a catalyst for the international humanitarian response and call on others to contribute to this cause – both longstanding partners as well as new and aspiring donors,” U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Stephen E. Biegun was quoted as saying in the press release about next week’s conference. Biegun was in Dhaka on Thursday where he met with Bangladesh’s foreign minister to discuss challenges faced by the nearly 1 million members of the stateless Rohingya minority who live in sprawling camps in southeastern Cox’s Bazar district. After meeting with Foreign Minister A.K. Momen, Biegun touched on the upcoming donor conference. “The announcement that was just made regarding a donor’s conference is going to seek to ensure that sufficient resources are available from the international community to address the immediate humanitarian needs of the refugee population that’s currently here in Bangladesh,” Biegun told reporters. He is scheduled to leave Dhaka on Friday. Momen praised Biegun for U.S. efforts to support Bangladesh in caring for Rohingya. The population of refugees at the camps in Cox’s Bazar and other areas along Bangladesh’s border with Myanmar fled from cycles of violence in Rakhine state, including about 740,000 who escaped after an August 2017 crackdown by Myanmar’s military. “We discussed the Rohingya issue. You know the U.S. has been the greatest supporter of our Rohingya issue since day one,” Momen said. In March, the U.S. government announced it was awarding $59 million in additional humanitarian aid to Rohingya in Bangladesh and Myanmar, increasing the total assistance to nearly $820 million since the 2017 crackdown. Biegun and Momen also discussed efforts to repatriate the Rohingya to their homes in Rakhine. While Bangladesh and Myanmar officials agreed in late 2017 to a voluntary repatriation process, all efforts to the return the Rohingya have failed. “In regard to … the Rohingya refugee population, I think it’s well known that the United States has been quite outspoken and used its political influence as much as possible to influence decisions inside Myanmar regarding the treatment and restoration of rights of these people,” Biegun said. “We very much agree with the government of Bangladesh that a solution needs to be found to restore the rights of and the return of people who are in the refugee camps here in Bangladesh.” Momen thanked the U.S. for supporting repatriation efforts. “They will continue to help us out. And also (they) will try their best as to how these people can go back to their country of origin,” he said. In announcing the donor conference, Biegun and the others said it would “be an opportunity for the co-hosts to reiterate that any sustainable solution to this crisis must include the voluntary, safe, dignified and sustainable return of Rohingya refugees and other displaced people to their homes or to a place of their choosing.” Conference details The conference is to run from 6 to 8:30 p.m. on Oct. 22 (Dhaka time) and will be livestreamed on rohingyaconference.org. Funds raised are to go to international organizations and NGOs working with the Rohingya, organizers said. “Solidarity with the Rohingya people means more than just meeting their basic needs. Refugees, like everyone else, have a right to a life of dignity and the chance to build a safe and stable future,” Filippo Grandi, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, said in the statement announcing the conference.

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