Rohingya conference draws $600M in pledges

Rohingya children walking in Unchiprang refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. Photo by: European Union / EU Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid / CC BY-NC-ND

LONDON — A virtual international summit for Rohingya refugees drew pledges for nearly $600 million, as donors ramped up the pressure on Myanmar’s government.

The event was co-hosted by the United Kingdom, the European Union, the United States, and the UN Refugee Agency, with participation from 34 countries — but Myanmar was not among them.

While Thursday’s online conference raised $597 million, a UNHCR spokesperson told Devex it was “too early to tell” if the conference succeeded in plugging a funding gap of around half a billion dollars for the humanitarian needs in Rohingya camps in Bangladesh.

“It will take some time to sift through the details of the new pledges and see how the new contributions will be dispersed ... the funds raised at today’s conference will go to international organizations and NGOs working to alleviate the crisis on the ground in Myanmar, throughout the region and towards the U.N.-led Joint Response Plan in Bangladesh,” the spokesperson said.

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In 2017, approximately 860,000 Rohingya refugees fled brutal military violence in Myanmar to the Cox’s Bazar district in Bangladesh. Around a million Rohingya live in refugee camps, where conditions remain poor. Recent bouts of violence have added to the insecurity felt by inhabitants.

There were frequent references, including from U.N High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi, to the growing “despair” in the camps, which has led many Rohingya refugees to undertake dangerous boat crossings from Bangladesh to other parts of the region. There have been 2,400 such trips recorded this year.

The U.S. was the conference’s largest donor, contributing $200 million to help Rohingyas in Bangladesh, within Myanmar, and regionally, bringing their total donation for the year to $437 million, according to a statement from U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

The U.K. pledged £37.5 million ($49.15 millions) for the humanitarian response in the refugee camps and the European Union donated €96 million ($113.6 million).

“The United Kingdom will continue to stand with the Rohingya people, it will continue to stand with Bangladesh … Let me assure you, we will continue to do everything we can to protect and support the Rohingya community and work towards sustainable return [to Myanmar] while also assisting Bangladesh and other host governments in supporting the Rohingya community,” said Lord Tariq Ahmad of Wimbledon, the U.K.’s minister for South Asia.

He added: “This is what we mean when we say we see the United Kingdom to be a global force for good.”

The pledges from key donors came alongside demands that political solutions to the crisis be pursued, particularly from Myanmar. The country, a former military dictatorship, has refused to implement international recommendations to improve conditions and allow the safe return of the Rohingya minority, who are officially stateless and have a long history of persecution at the hands of Myanmar’s authorities.

Repression of the ethnic Muslim minority, who are mostly concentrated in western Rakhine state with scant access to essential services, has worsened markedly since 2012, according to observers.  

“The root causes of the suffering of the Rohingya people, both inside and outside Myanmar, can only be addressed by the Myanmar’s authorities … we see too little real progress on critical reforms on the ground,” said U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock.

Bangladesh’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Shahriar Alam said the situation was becoming “increasingly untenable” and his country was “not in a position to continue to take burden anymore.”

Alam said that controversial plans to relocate 100,000 Rohingya refugees to a remote island were going ahead, and that fences around the camps in Cox’s Bazar were security measures which would not be compromised.

About the author

  • William Worley

    William Worley is the U.K. Correspondent for Devex, covering DFID and British aid. Previously, he reported on international affairs, policy, and development. He also worked as a reporter for the U.K. national press, including the Times, Guardian, Independent, and i Paper. His reportage has included work on the Rohingya refugee crisis in Bangladesh, drought in Madagascar, the "migrant caravan" in Mexico, and Colombia’s peace process. He can be reached at william.worley@devex.com.