News Boats carrying scores of Rohingya refugees capsize off Indonesia: fishermen

Dhaka: This year’s fasting month has started as the worst one in memory for Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, with the Ramadan spirit of charity and caring dampened by shortages of aid and food.

International aid for the Rohingya has been dropping since 2020, despite urgent pleas for donations by the World Food Program and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

More than a million Rohingya Muslims, most of whom fled Myanmar after a brutal military crackdown in 2017, have sought shelter in neighboring Bangladesh. The UN estimates that 95 percent of them are dependent on humanitarian assistance, which has been dropping since 2020, despite urgent pleas for donations by the World Food Program and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

With no major international response, the WFP last year began to reduce the value of food aid for the Rohingya, deepening food insecurity and child malnutrition in the squalid camps of Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh’s south, which are already the world’s largest refugee settlement.

Last year’s food cuts coincided with the month of Ramadan, but at the time international NGOs stepped in with support. This year, even that aid is dwindling.

“The flow of food aid is much less compared with last year’s Ramadan,” Mizanur Rahman, Bangladesh’s refugee relief and repatriation commissioner, told Arab News on Wednesday.

“Amid food budget cuts, the nutrition of Rohingya has become low, which is very risky. Their nutrition situation is close to the emergency situation when the exodus (from Myanmar) took place in 2017-18.”

The current monthly food assistance is $10 per person — not enough for the refugees to support themselves, let alone engage in helping others.

Zahida Begum, who has six children to feed, considers herself lucky as her husband works part-time as a carpenter and sometimes manages to earn $5 a day.

From time to time, this allows her to afford fish for the morning sahoor meal before fasting.

“Compared with my neighbors, I am a bit better off this Ramadan, as my husband earns a bit,” she said. “But when the neighbors go to bed with an empty or half-empty stomach, how can I observe the holy month with a peaceful mind?”

Neither she nor her neighbors in Cox’s Bazar have received Ramadan aid from charities this year.

Mohammad Jamal, who looks after a family of five, said food aid cuts have been aggravated by high inflation and price hikes.

“The situation is worse than in the previous year,” he told Arab News. “The prices of vegetables have increased in the market, and we are not able to even buy vegetables this Ramadan. Buying fish, chicken and beef is completely a luxury for the Rohingya at Cox’s Bazar.”

While last year he could still afford to buy puffed rice, watermelon or bananas for iftar, this time they are too expensive.

“Last year, watermelon was sold at 50 taka (50 US cents), this year it’s sold at 250 taka. A banana cost 5 taka last year, but this year, the price has almost doubled.”

Mohammed Rezuwan Khan, a Rohingya activist, estimated that only about a fifth of the families living in Kutupalong, the largest refugee camp, have received food packages from Islamic organizations — much fewer than last year.

“This year, it’s a bit different than in the previous years,” he said.

“As we are Muslims, it is obligatory for us to observe Ramadan, and we’re observing it in the camps despite the obstacles. But in this situation, it’s very miserable now.”


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