Last week, the government of Bangladesh blocked a $33 million UN project aimed at poverty alleviation in Cox Bazaar district, near the Burma border. The government claimed the beneficiaries would be Rohingya refugees and not Bangladesh’s citizens. The Bangladesh government said the project would increase tensions between refugees and the local population, although, according to the project proposal, local residents would also benefit from the project. “The finance ministry has rejected the scheme because the actual aim of the UN initiative is to rehabilitate refugees in Cox’s Bazar district under the pretext of poverty reduction for locals”, an official told Kaladan News. More than 200,000 Rohingya refuges live in the Cox Bazaar area and a recent investigation by Refugees International (RI) documented atrocious living conditions and echoed the findings of a 2010 PHR report, Stateless and Starving. PHR and RI found:
- Only about 28,000 of the refugees are registered and receive regular aid from the UN and relief organizations.
- Unregistered Rohingya refugees have been attacked and imprisoned by the local authorities and some have been forced to return to Burma.
- The prevalence of child malnutrition was one of the highest in the world.
- 91% of households were forced to borrow food or money within the month leading up to the survey. Several of the refugee camps had no clean water source or proper system to dispose of waste, which drastically increases the spread of infectious disease.
- Bangladesh government officials have repeatedly blocked relief efforts to provide services to the unregistered refugees.
The government of Bangladesh should not block aid to this vulnerable population.? It should strive to find other ways to diffuse the tension between refugees and local people and to grant more access to relief agencies working in the area.