GENEVA, SWITZERLAND —
The heads of leading United Nations aid agencies kicked off a special one-day pledging conference to raise $434 million to provide life-saving assistance for 1.2 million people, including all Rohingya refugees and host communities in Bangladesh.
Before the pledging conference, a UN refugee agency spokesman said number of Rohingya refugees that have fled violence and persecution in Myanmar during the past two months has topped 600,000.
Aid agencies agreed it is one of the most severely underfunded crises in the world, which led Mark Lowcock, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator to tell delegates the focus of the day’s event would be “to mobilize resources to save lives and protect people.”
He said, “The new arrivals include numbers of very severely acutely malnourished children and the U.N. agencies will need to continue to update and adapt our appeal to support beyond what we have put out and we are discussing today. “Let me be clear, funding is a major constraint. We need more money to keep pace with intensifying needs.”
The mass exodus of refugees into Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh began August 25 after Rohingya insurgents killed nine police officers, triggering vicious reprisal attacks by the Myanmar security.
Lowcock, who had visited Bangladesh earlier this month, described, what he called heart-rending accounts of “killings, arson, rape, torture, and other abuse,”
He said the Rohingya were facing “a human, humanitarian and human rights nightmare. Children, women and men fleeing Myanmar are streaming into Bangladesh traumatized and destitute.”
Bangladesh has been host to nearly 400,000 nationals from Myanmar, including Rohingya, for the past three decades.
Shameem Ahsan, Bangladesh’s Ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva told the conference with the current arrival of 600,000 refugees, “the number of forcibly displaced Rohingyas in Bangladesh has now reached nearly one million.”
He noted that the current situation was “the quickest exodus from a single country since the Rwandan genocide in 1994. Despite claims to the contrary,” he said, “the violence in Rhakhine State has not stopped. Thousands still enter on-a-daily-basis.”
He warned the arrival of such a huge number of displaced people in Cox’s Bazar “created massive socio-economic and demographic pressure on Bangladesh” and added that other human security risks exist including “fear of epidemics.”
The Rohingya Muslims have lived in the mainly Buddhist State of Rakhine for centuries, but have been denied citizenship and remain the largest stateless minority in the world. Myanmar considers them illegal migrants.
“If the root causes are not addressed in Myanmar urgently, we will not see the end of this crisis any time soon,” said Filippo Grandi, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.
He agreed with others who noted that the root of the problem lay with Myanmar and that the solution must be found there. “So, it is important to focus on the solution.”
This, he said included an end to violence in Myanmar, the granting of unfettered access to humanitarian agencies into northern Rakhine State and the creation of “conditions for the right of return for the refugees.”
Though still in its infancy, a political process to resolve this thorny issue is underway. The United Nations and Myanmar authorities have begun discussions and the Bangladeshi Ambassador announced that his government is continuing bi-lateral efforts with Myanmar to find a durable solution.
William Lacy Swing, Director General of the International Organization for Migration said it is important to move quickly to support “the encouraging talks that are going on between Bangladesh and Myanmar” and to create the conditions for the safe, secure, dignified return of these long-suffering people “to their ancestral home.”
Since the crisis began, U.N. agencies have been providing refugees with urgently needed food, shelter, water and sanitation, health care, and other relief. All agree that humanitarian operations need to be scaled up, but without additional money, this will be difficult to do.
Pledges received at the end of the one-day conference totaled more than $344 million. Though this was about $90 million short of the goal, emergency relief coordinator, Mark Lowack, said that he was encouraged.
“Of course, pledges are one thing” he said. It is really important to us that the pledges are translated as soon as possible into contributions and go into the agency bank accounts.”