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A new US$18 million project agreement has been signed between the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the Bangladeshi government to support refugees from Burma, the vast majority of whom are Rohingya Muslims.
The project will provide humanitarian assistance to Undocumented Myanmar [Burma] Nationals (UMNs) and vulnerable host communities in two districts of Cox’s Bazaar, a city in the southeastern corner of Bangladesh, close to the border with Burma and “one of the least developed districts in Bangladesh,” according to Peppi Siddiq, IOM project development officer.
The office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has expressed concern for the welfare of up to 500,000 undocumented Burmese migrants in the region, over 99 percent of whom are Rohingyas from neighbouring Arakan State in Burma who have fled persecution and violence. The Burmese government do not recognise the Rohingya people as a native ethnic group of the country, leading many observers to refer to them as “stateless”.
Both UMNs in Bangladesh and the host populations are extremely vulnerable, with below national average access to health care, clean water and sanitation, and a very high prevalence of malnutrition. Speaking to DVB on Monday, Siddiq said that while “the needs difference does not vary much between the two different populations,” the Burmese refugees to the area “have very limited access to the formal economy and hence their livelihood options are limited”.
According to IOM the focus of the project, currently supported by the US, British and Swedish governments, is to provide humanitarian aid to those who need it most, and to facilitate Dhaka’s coordination of the provision of humanitarian services for UMNs in the area.
The three-year project will also target the health of its beneficiaries using mobile medical teams, as well as strengthening government health services and working to improve health referrals. The water and health infrastructure in these areas will also receive investment, with the provision of deep tube wells and latrines in the makeshift settlements holding the displaced peoples, as well as in the host communities who are struggling to cope with the influx of people to the area, IOM said.
Rohingya refugees also face violence within Bangladesh and have been accused of participating in communal violence in the Cox’s Bazar area. High tensions and conflict between different groups have led to restrictions by law enforcement on the movement and interactions of Rohingya people.
UNHCR has highlighted the frequent and dangerous attempts by people from Arakan State and Bangladesh to travel to other countries by sea, including Thailand, Malaysia and even Australia, in search of a better life.
“This intervention has been carefully planned and supports the Government of Bangladesh’s National Strategy on Myanmar Refugees and Undocumented Myanmar Nationals and the local population,” said Sarat Dash, IOM’s Chief of Mission in Bangladesh. “This support is very significant and we thank the Government and the international community for their faith in IOM to provide sustained humanitarian assistance.”