Wednesday, March 22, 2017

UN Refugee Agency urges fair deal for Rohingyas in Bangladesh


SALEEM SAMAD

United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) seeks equal treatment for all Rohingyas in Bangladesh and help to provide basic aids to new arrivals.

Apparently the appeal was made amidst confusion created after fresh influx of refugees who fled violence in Myanmar are dubbed 'undocumented' and miss out on vital aid, while those arrived in Bangladesh are considered 'refugees'.

The new influx has highlighted the urgent need to verify the number and location of the new arrivals. Without this information, vulnerable refugees risk falling through the cracks while others could be receiving duplication of assistance, says a top UNHCR officials in Bangladesh.

The influx of refugees in the early 1990s, lives in two government-run camps serviced by UNHCR, and its partners the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the World Food Program (WFP) in Ukhia, Cox's Bazar, bordering troubled Rakhine State.

The 33,000 registered refugees in Kutupalong and Nayapara camps in Ukhia have access to basic services including food assistance, healthcare and education for children, but the registered refugees do not have any legal status in Bangladesh.

More than 70,000 Rohingya are believed to flee during a security operation between October 2016 and February 2017. The security operation by Myanmar Army has recently been postponed after international outcry, including the United Nations, European Union, Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

The Bangladesh government has announced it will conduct a census of undocumented Rohingya living outside the two camps to include the new arrivals.

"We are advocating for a joint verification of the new arrivals with our partners as soon as possible," said Shinji Kubo, UNHCR's Representative in Bangladesh. "This exercise will help the government and humanitarian agencies to better target assistance to those who need it the most, be they new arrivals, refugees who came earlier or locals who host them."

A third category consists of an estimated 200,000 to 500,000 'undocumented' Rohingya who arrived in Bangladesh between the two influxes. They live in makeshift sites and local villages, and until recently had no access to humanitarian aid.

"The current situation is not sustainable," said  Shinji Kubo. "Regardless of when they came and where they live, these people have the same needs and deserve equal access to protection and assistance," he told UNHCR press.

Several thousand new arrivals are presently accommodated in the two official camps, pressuring on the capacity of existing refugees and the infrastructure. Many more new arrivals are living in existing makeshift sites or new ones that have sprouted spontaneously.

"In the long run, we hope that all Rohingyas in Bangladesh can be documented to ensure full respect for their rights," said UNHCR's Kubo. "Knowing the profile of this population will also help us to identify longer-term solutions for them."

Article first published in The Asian Age, March 22, 2017

Saleem Samad, is an Ashoka Fellow (USA), an award winning investigative journalist and is Special Correspondent for The Asian Age