August 25th marked the third year since the most recent wave of refugees fled across the border from Myanmar to camps in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. This year’s COVID-19 pandemic has challenged humanitarian agencies to adapt their operations to prevent disease transmission and ensure assistance to meet urgent needs.
“Donor support for these measures in Cox’s Bazar was swift and has contributed to the relatively mild impact of the pandemic in the camps,” said IOM’s Director General António Vitorino in his opening remarks of a panel discussion at today’s conference.
“However, the compounded effect of limited access to the camps due to COVID-19 and the impact of the recent monsoon season have created urgent operational needs, namely shelter and camp maintenance that will require additional support in the coming months.”
The discussion, moderated by DG Vitorino, brought to light diverse perspectives of NGOs, IGOs and UN agencies with representatives and directors from the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the World Food Programme (WFP), the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the World Bank, BRAC and the Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network.
Vitorino urged humanitarian actors to pursue interventions that go beyond immediate humanitarian assistance and support long-term development for not only the refugee population, but also the surrounding Bangladeshi host communities.
“As the crisis has stabilised and transitioned from an emergency into a protracted scenario, coupled with the concerning exacerbation of inequalities, unrest, and social stigmatisation due to COVID-19, the discussions on operationalising the humanitarian-development nexus in Cox’s Bazar District and the region are becoming ever so important,” he said.
He also emphasised the importance of a coordinated regional dimension to the response – particularly as more people embark on dangerous maritime journeys across the Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea.
“Saving lives must be the first priority. Countries in the region have demonstrated that health screening and quarantine arrangements can be appropriately implemented so that people can disembark and receive assistance in a safe, orderly and dignified manner,” he said.
There are more than 860,000 Rohingya refugees registered in Bangladesh; 102,000 in Malaysia and 18,000 in India. An estimated 140,000 Rohingya are internally displaced in Rakhine State in Myanmar.
The 2020 Joint Response Plan for the Rohingya humanitarian crisis in Bangladesh is currently 49 per cent funded. Continued robust humanitarian and development funding is crucial to meet the needs of all.
IOM continues to expand health services in the camps and to host community members who are disproportionately vulnerable to the effects of COVID-19 in camps in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. The Organization also engages in disaster risk reduction initiatives and provides protection, mental health and psychosocial services, shelter, non-food items, water sanitation and hygiene support.
Today’s donor conference was organized by the United States of America, the European Commission, the United Kingdom and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.