UN seeks $1.25 billion for Rohingya crisis

The agency raised fears that a Covid-19 outbreak in South Asia could reach refugee camps before vaccines do. PHOTO: REUTERS

GENEVA (AFP) - The United Nations on Tuesday (May 18) appealed for US$943 million (S$1.25 billion) to cope with the Rohingya humanitarian crisis, fearing that a Covid-19 outbreak in South Asia could reach refugee camps before vaccines do.

The agency said the funds were needed urgently this year for nearly one million refugees from the Muslim minority who fled to Bangladesh from neighbouring Myanmar after a deadly crackdown in 2017.

Most are crowded into squalid refugee camps, and the pandemic has rendered them even more vulnerable.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi told a virtual press conference: "Bangladesh finds itself in a region particularly affected by Covid-19 and therefore the needs are even more urgent than in the past."

At a donor conference, US$206 million was raised in fresh contributions, taking the total raised for the crisis so far to US$340 million.

The annual Joint Response Plan brings together Bangladesh, nine UN agencies and more than 100 non-governmental organisations to raise funds.

Besides Rohingya refugees, it seeks to meet the needs of 472,000 Bangladeshis in affected host communities.

Mr Grandi said that a military coup in Myanmar on Feb 1 should not overshadow the plight of Rohingya refugees, who have largely not felt safe to return to Myanmar since the 2017 crackdown.

"It is important that the Rohingya crisis is not forgotten as action is taken," he said.

Bangladesh's junior Foreign Affairs Minister Shahriar Alam said the Rohingya crisis had placed an "enormous strain" on his country.

"Rohingya have become desperate to get rid of such a precarious and hopeless situation. They want to return home in safety, security and dignity," he added.

"Unfortunately, not a single Rohingya could yet return due to lack of political will and decisive action on the part of Myanmar."

Covid-19 outbreaks in the camps have so far been successfully contained, but the head of the UN's International Organisation for Migration Antonio Vitorino said vaccines were urgently needed.

"The challenge in front of us is to guarantee that the health and protection of the refugees is also guaranteed in terms of access to vaccination," he said.

Last year's response plan called for more than US$1 billion, but ended up 40 per cent short.

This year's plan includes US$247 million for food security, US$135 million for health and US$112 million for shelter and non-food items.

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