The British government has announced shocking cuts to its aid in support of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. The £27.6 million announced amounts to a 42% cut in aid to Rohingya refugees compared to what the government contributed in October 2020, and less than a quarter of what the UK contributed in 2019.
The statement, which was dated yesterday but distributed today, made no mention of the fact that it amounts to a cut of around 42% in aid to Rohingya refugees.
“Even in a climate where aid cuts were expected due to the government’s broken promise of delivering 0.7% of GNI in aid, this is still shocking”, said Karin Valtersson, Campaigns Officer at Burma Campaign UK. “The Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh are genocide survivors, they are some of the most vulnerable people on the planet, many are survivors of sexual violence, of torture, of having witnessed family members including children being killed by the Burmese army.”
The Rohingya fled genocide at the hands of the Burma military in 2017 and the refugee camp is the largest in the world. According to official figures, over 880,000 refugees reside in the camp, over half are children.
The announcement of the slashing of support for the Rohingya refugees comes at the same time as Burma Campaign UK warns of overall cut to the Burma aid budget. The aid for Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh is not part of the Burma aid budget.
Poverty levels are rising steeply in Burma as the people are bravely opposing the military coup and at the same time are suffering the consequences of military brutality and an economic crash due to both the coup and the Covid epidemic.
“Dominic Raab talks the talk but he doesn’t walk the walk on Burma. He likes to offer statements, whether it is on justice or support to protestors, but doesn’t follow it up with action. This includes aid. In their most dire moment of need, Dominic Raab has decided to abandon the poorest people of Burma”, said Karin Valtersson.
The military coup has made it even more unlikely for the Rohingya to be able to return to Burma in the short-term, as the general that led the genocide against them, Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing, is now the leader of the country. Instead of cutting aid to the Rohingya camps, the international community, including the British government, should work with Bangladesh to plan for a protracted refugee crisis with decent shelter and living conditions for the Rohingya.
“Over half of the refugees in the camp are children, and they are living in squalid conditions with not enough access to sanitation or hygiene, and very little education. The camp is fenced in by barbed wire and the security in the camp is deteriorating. The living conditions of these children are unimaginable as they are and these cuts will make their situation even worse”, said Karin Valtersson.
The way in which the UK government releases aid spending figures year on year makes it hard to do precise year on year comparisons. According to Burma Campaign UK research, the aid allocation to the Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh since the genocide of 2017 is as follows:
This brings the total of aid to the Rohingya camps to just above £320m, which is the number the government themselves are quoting as the total: https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/uk-statement-launch-of-rohingya-joint-response-plan-in-bangladesh?
Sources for the individual aid years:
UPDATE 25 May 2021
The government has now, in response to two written parliamentary questions, given different figures for its aid spending on Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh than the previously published figures that we quoted in the media release.
The newly published government figures for support to Rohingya refugees are:
£49.1m in 2017-18
£62.98m in 2018-19
£112.36m in 2019-20
£65.5m in 2020-21
This brings the total of aid spent to £289.94m.
The new government figures confirms the cut in aid to the Rohingya from 2019-2020 to 2020-2021 to 42%.
In an answer to another parliamentary question the same day, however, government minister Nigel Adams MP states: “At the launch of the Joint Response Plan on 18 May, we announced £27.6 million of new funding to the Rohingya response in Bangladesh, bringing our total contribution to over £320 million since the start of the crisis in 2017.” That is over £30m more than what the above numbers adds up to. In the same question, Lyn Brown MP asks for the assessment of the potential effects of these cuts, but the minister does not provide one.