He emphasised the need to maintain refugees’ hopes for voluntary return to Myanmar once the situation allows, a media statement from UNHCR read on Wednesday.
Grandi is currently wrapping up a five-day trip to Bangladesh where he met Rohingya refugees, the country’s top leadership, UNHCR donors and humanitarian actors.
“The world must remember the crisis that Rohingya refugees and their hosts have been facing for the last five years. The refugees’ lives depend on how the international community responds in caring for them,” Grandi said, after visiting the refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar and Bhasan Char island.
Bangladesh hosts some one million Rohingya refugees, most of whom fled for their lives from Myanmar in 2017 while others arrived many years earlier.
In a press briefing on Wednesday, Grandi spoke about receiving support from donors so far, but there was cause for concern now.
“We have enjoyed so far support from donors. But I am a bit worried that now ... first of all, it is needed more now because of Bhasan Char. And now with Ukraine and Afghanistan and a lot of other competing crises, we are struggling to [draw support].”
Grandi expressed gratitude to Bangladesh and underlined the important strides in the refugee response under the leadership of the Government, including COVID-19 vaccinations for more than 88 per cent of the refugee population over 18 years of age.
“Bangladesh, which has led in assisting nearly a million refugees, remains a priority partner for UNHCR, but continued international support is crucial to provide life-saving assistance and build hope,” Grandi stressed.
“This is why I am here, to try to shine a spotlight on Bangladesh, its people, and the Rohingya refugees it has been hosting for decades, and to remind the international community of the importance of their support, including flexible funding to protect Rohingya refugees until they can safely return home.”
The high commissioner said the solutions lie within Myanmar.
While UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and UNDP continue to work on community projects in Rakhine state under a tripartite agreement with Myanmar, initiatives must be scaled up and more support is needed to create conditions for voluntary returns in a just, safe, and sustainable manner.
“The Rohingya refugees I met reiterated their desire to return home when conditions allow. The world must work to address the root causes of their flight and to translate those dreams into reality,” Grandi said.
While in Bangladesh, it is important that Rohingya refugees can live in safety and dignity, that they can send their children to school and learn from the Myanmar curriculum, which is being rolled out in the refugee camps. Some 52 per cent of the refugee population are under the age of 18.
“Skills development and livelihood activities in Cox’s Bazar and on Bhasan Char are extremely important in allowing refugees to build peaceful communities, contribute to a safe environment and support their sustainable return,” Grandi added.
Around 28,000 Rohingya refugees have been relocated to Bhasan Char by the Government of Bangladesh, and the high commissioner observed that essential humanitarian services have been scaled up.
He called for continued strong government leadership on the island, enhanced education services, skills development and livelihood initiatives.
Humanitarian agencies need more than $881 million this year to support approximately 1.4 million people, including 920,000 Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar and Bhasan Char, and around 540,000 Bangladeshis in neighbouring communities.
Following a military operation in Rakhine in August 2017, more than 700,000 Rohingya people arrived in Bangladesh from Myanmar and joined up with 400,000 more who had been living in the country.
Bangladesh government finalised an agreement with its Myanmar counterpart to repatriate the disenfranchised Rohingya at the end of 2017, but it is yet to be realised.
In 2019, Bangladesh attempted to send back the Rohingya population twice but the refugees cited safety concerns in Rakhine and refused to leave.
UNHCR has been in charge of managing the Rohingya refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar’s Teknaf and Ukhiya. The agency collects grants from donor countries and organisations for the management of Rohingya community in Bangladesh as part of a pre-announced Joint Response Plan or JRP every year.
“It is true that the plan wasn’t fully financed, but in some years, it was 75 percent financed. If you consider how this fund emerges, you will see it is not a bad result.”
As of May 2022, the Joint Response Plan is only 13 percent funded.
“...so [let the world know] that this should not be forgotten. Because the risk is there of marginalisation of some of the crisis, because so much attention and resources are absorbed, especially by the Ukraine crisis.”
On finances, Grandi said, “I will never say it’s impossible. But it will be more difficult than before. I think the government knows that, we know that and the donors know that. That’s why I am here”
“For me, it’s a personal priority. I was here just before the big crisis in July 2017, my first visit, and I came back at the end of September.”
“I am worried about the plight of the Rohingya. You know they are under pressure everywhere, they are a disenfranchised population.
“We need to find the solution for these poor people, for decades so much subjected to exile, to violence. So I will do whatever I can to mobilise those resources.”