United Nations commissioner says agency cannot feed enough refugees

For the first time in six years since 700,000 Rohingya women, men, and children fled Myanmar to Bangladesh, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees says that decreasing funds have resulted in a shortage of food for refugees.

At a time when Western governments are spending billions to supply war efforts in Ukraine, attack insurgent extremists in Africa, and set new record highs for military spending, UNHCR is appealing for financial support to sustain the humanitarian response.

The Rohingya people are a stateless Indo-Aryan ethnic group who predominantly follow Islam and reside in Rakhine State, Myanmar.

Violence against Muslim minorities in Buddhist or Hindu societies has increased in recent years, and some blame the current conflict and more general strife on British colonial policies, British policies such as the 1909 decision to give Indian Muslims a separate electorate from Hindus in local elections, as well as the 1947 partition into two independent nations: India and Pakistan (comprising West and East Pakistan, present-day Bangladesh).

However, other historians see more ancient origins that may have lost relevance and they argue the current situation requires a modern solution.

For decades, Indian Muslim communities have faced discrimination in employment and education and encountered barriers to achieving wealth and political power. They are recently disproportionate victims of communal violence.

India is home to some two hundred million Muslims, making one of the world’s largest Islamic populations but a minority in the predominantly Hindu country.

Since independence in 1948, successive governments in Burma, renamed Myanmar in 1989, have refuted the Rohingya’s historical claims and denied the group recognition as one of the country’s 135 official ethnic groups, treating them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, even though many trace their roots in the country back centuries.

This week marks the sixth anniversary — six years — since over 700,000 Rohingya women, men, and children fled Myanmar to Bangladesh. 

Before the genocide in 2017, when over 740,000 of them fled to Bangladesh, an estimated 1.4 million Rohingya lived in Myanmar.

At least 6,700 Rohingya were killed in the first month of attacks, between August 25 and September 24, 2017, according to the international medical charity Doctors Without Borders.

They joined hundreds of thousands of other Rohingya who had previously sought refuge in the country.

Myanmar’s security forces also allegedly opened fire on fleeing civilians and planted land mines near border crossings used by Rohingya to flee to Bangladesh.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has described the violence as ethnic cleansing and the humanitarian situation as catastrophic.

As we mark this grim milestone, the UNHCR is appealing for the international community to provide financial support to sustain the humanitarian response.

UNHCR said that decreasing funds levels have led — for the first time — to the reduction of refugees’ food assistance.

Humanitarian agencies have appealed for $876 million this year to assist some 1.47 million people, including Rohingya refugees and their host communities. 

The agency estimated that 108.4 million people worldwide are forcibly displaced. Most refugees – 76 percent – are hosted by low- and middle-income countries.

However, as of mid-August, funds were only provided to about 28.9 percent of the people in need.

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