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Concerns mount over UN food aid cut for Rohingya in Bangladesh

The UN and the government of Bangladesh are calling for more international aid to help the refugees in a ‘difficult year’.

Concerns are growing over the decision by the World Food Program (WFP) to cut food aid for Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh due to a funding crisis.

On March 1, citing a $125 million shortfall in donations, the WFP cut monthly food stamps for the refugees from $12 to $10 per person, warning that further cuts were “imminent” without an immediate cash injection.

More than a million Rohingya refugees live in camps in Cox’s Bazar, most of them having fled a military-led crackdown in Myanmar in 2017.

The United Nations and the government of Bangladesh on Tuesday called for more international aid to help the Rohingya in what has turned into the world’s largest refugee camp.

“The response plan launched today is requesting $883 million from the international community,” Shahariar Sadat, an academic at BRAC University in Dhaka, told Al Jazeera.

Sadat said 2023 could be a “difficult year” for nearly one million Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, stressing that international funding must be “more equitable”.

“I think the world is not looking at the crisis from a level playing field and that is why we are not getting enough money to deal with the crisis. I think there is a lack of attention here and I hope it doesn’t become a forgotten crisis,” he said.

Last week, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in New York warned that aid cuts put hundreds of thousands of Rohingya at serious risk of malnutrition as calories per person fall below the accepted minimum of 2,100 calories per day.

“Financing has fallen and the number of aid organizations working in Cox’s Bazar has decreased by almost 80 percent,” said Claudio Miglietta, MSF country representative in Bangladesh.

Thousands homeless after fire: UN

Meanwhile, the UN said more than 12,000 Rohingya refugees have been left homeless by a fire that swept through a camp in Cox’s Bazar in southeastern Bangladesh.

The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said on Tuesday that more than 2,000 shelters and some 90 facilities, including hospitals and learning centers, were destroyed by Sunday’s fire.

Bangladesh is investigating the cause of the fire, Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner Mohammad Mizanur Rahman said. “Once we receive the report, it will be clear whether it was an act of sabotage or not,” he added.

Fires often break out in the overcrowded camp of makeshift structures. A massive fire in March 2021 killed at least 15 refugees and destroyed more than 10,000 homes.

Resident Shafiur Rahman, 24, urged authorities to provide better facilities. “Our houses were set on fire in Myanmar. Now we’re going through the same thing here,” he said.

Amnesty International also called on the Bangladeshi government to provide safer shelter for the refugees.

“The government must recognize the danger of keeping large communities in unsafe, overcrowded conditions and take steps to provide adequate and safe housing for the Rohingya community,” said Yasasmin Kaviratne, the organization’s regional campaigner for South Asia.

Rising crime, difficult living conditions and bleak prospects of returning to Myanmar are driving more Rohingya refugees to leave Bangladesh by boat to countries like Malaysia and Indonesia, putting their lives at risk. UN data shows that 348 Rohingya died at sea last year.