DHAKA, U.S. Embassy in Bangladesh -- A delegation, including the Australian High Commissioner and Ambassadors of Japan and the United States, met with Bangladeshi government officials and international agencies assisting host communities and Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar to reiterate their unwavering support for Bangladesh’s refugee response, March 6, 2021. During the March 3-4 visit, the delegation also visited a disaster preparedness project, food programs, a learning center, a health facility, and spoke with community health volunteers about their role in the COVID-19 response in the Rohingya refugee camps and host communities.
The latest visit marks a year since the first cases of coronavirus were reported in Bangladesh and the first since the October 2020 Rohingya donor conference, which raised nearly $600 million in additional relief funds for Rohingya refugees and host communities.
Since the outbreak of violence in Myanmar in 2017, the international community has cooperated to assist in the crisis. In that time, Australia has provided over $240 million in humanitarian assistance to Rohingya and host communities in Cox’s Bazar; Japan has contributed $140 million; and the United States has responded with assistance of $1.2 billion to address those affected, including host communities in Bangladesh.
Over the past year, the pandemic has forced camp officials and agencies to create innovative solutions to ensure delivery of food assistance and public health interventions, and other life-saving activities in ways that reduced the spread of the virus. In Camp 4, the Delegation witnessed the innovative use of Quick Response (QR) codes with Bangladesh/UNHCR identification cards to ensure contact-free verification for beneficiaries receiving food assistance. With funding from the United States Government through U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the World Food Program (WFP), the group provides emergency food assistance through e-vouchers using blockchain ledgers for approximately 857,000 Rohingya refugees per month, nearly all in the Cox’s Bazar District. Monthly e-vouchers verified through QR codes allow refugees to purchase basic food commodities from 21 outlets owned by local host community vendors, including various fresh foods such as eggs, vegetables, and fruit.
Similarly, with Australian support, UN Women and UNICEF adapted programming and activities during the pandemic. UN Women’s multi-purpose centers were used for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) production, creating livelihood opportunities for women, and increasing access to PPE. UN Women also provided COVID-19 awareness sessions alongside other health education programming. Due to the closure of schools and learning centers, UNICEF worked to continue education through remote learning modalities. Rohingya volunteer teachers – referred to as Burmese Language Instructors – supported caregiver-led home-based learning by regularly visiting their students at home to support them to participate in remote learning using existing learning materials.
Delegation members also met with courageous refugee volunteers who combatted the pandemic by distributing vital information about preventative measures with residents in the largest camps. Throughout and before the pandemic, refugee volunteers shared health information on topics ranging from maternal and prenatal health to basic sanitation and gathered infectious disease
surveillance in the camps. The Delegation also visited the Severe Acute Respiratory Infection Isolation and Treatment Centre to understand how COVID treatments were managed in the camps. Relief International officials operating the facility told the delegation that approximately two-thirds of those treated for COVID-19 were Bangladeshi people from surrounding host communities.
The Delegation also met with Bangladesh government officials and officials from the Inter-Sector Coordination Group, WFP, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), International Organization for Migration, UNICEF, World Health Organization (WHO), Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner, UNHCR, International Organization for Migration (IOM), and UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
The leaders of the international missions remarked separately on the strong collaboration between international partners and the strength of their ongoing commitment to resolving the crisis.
Australian High Commissioner Bruer said, “We would like to reiterate our strong support for Bangladesh hosting displaced Rohingya. Last year, COVID created many new challenges, including here in Cox’s Bazar. With case numbers steadying and with the vaccine in sight, it is as important as ever, for us to work together with the Bangladesh authorities to ensure humanitarian partners can deliver the much-needed assistance to both Rohingya and Host communities.”
Japanese Ambassador Ito said, “We had this joint mission with an intention to further promote our support for the Government of Bangladesh and to strengthen cooperation with international organizations and NGOs. Japan will work towards early repatriation of the displaced people, while continuing humanitarian assistance in Cox’s Bazar, as finding lasting solutions of this crisis is conducive to our pursuit of a Free and Open Indo-Pacific. We strongly hope that, as the coronavirus situation has been improving, comprehensive service delivery including education will restart soon.”
Speaking during the visit, Ambassador Miller said, “The international community has not forgotten the refugees or host communities supporting the Rohingya refugees. We continue to work with international organizations to encourage Myanmar to create the conditions that allow for the voluntary, safe, dignified, and sustainable return of refugees. To that end, we strongly support all those calling on the Myanmar military to restore power to the democratically elected government, release all those who have been unjustly detained, and cease attacks on journalists, activists, and others. The military must exercise maximum restraint and refrain from additional violence.”