Inter Press ServiceBangladesh – Inter Press Service http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Tue, 18 Sep 2018 19:31:34 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.7 Addressing Bangladesh’s Age-Old Public Transportation Systemhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/addressing-bangladeshs-age-old-public-transportation-system/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=addressing-bangladeshs-age-old-public-transportation-system http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/addressing-bangladeshs-age-old-public-transportation-system/#respond Fri, 31 Aug 2018 15:23:53 +0000 Naimul Haq http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=157427 After the recent student uprising in Bangladesh, and despite increased policing on the streets and amendments to the traffic laws, there has been criticism that things have not changed significantly enough to make the country’s roads safer. Ilias Kanchan, an actor and road safety activist, tells IPS that while the government was quick to observe […]

The post Addressing Bangladesh’s Age-Old Public Transportation System appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>

About 3,000 to 5,000 student protesters took to Bangladesh’s streets at the end of July and in early August, demanding safer roads. Students even imposed informal roadblocks in order to check the roadworthiness of vehicles. Courtesy: A.K.M. Moshin

By Naimul Haq
DHAKA, Aug 31 2018 (IPS)

After the recent student uprising in Bangladesh, and despite increased policing on the streets and amendments to the traffic laws, there has been criticism that things have not changed significantly enough to make the country’s roads safer.

Ilias Kanchan, an actor and road safety activist, tells IPS that while the government was quick to observe ‘Traffic Week’ at the start of August, during which time the police had been actively inspecting vehicles and private cars for violations, it was not sufficient.

“The move was an eye wash. We notice the same [unroadworthy] public buses on the streets again driving without valid road permits and driving licenses. Although the traffic police are checking and fining violators everyday, the scale of violations have not declined, which shows ignorance [about the laws on the part] of the vehicle owners,” Kanchan, who himself narrowly escaped injury in a road accident in 1989, tells IPS.“In true sense we require massive plans on infrastructure development, equipment support, strengthening of institutions and building capacities to see an overall improvement in public road safety.” -- architect and outspoken social activist, Mubasshar Hussain

Kanchan has been advocating for safer roads under the Nirapad Sarak Chai (We Demand Safe Roads) campaign for the last 25 years, ever since his wife was killed in a tragic road accident.

About 3,000 to 5,000 student protesters took to the streets at the end of July and in early August, demanding safer roads and calling for order to be brought to the chaotic, age-old public transportation system—one that is mostly dominated by private transport owners and workers.

The protests, the first of its kind by students in the history of this country, began after a bus crashed into students on the afternoon of Jul. 29, killing two and injuring many others. It sparked off violent protests across the capital Dhaka, a city of over 18 million people.

Shaken by the nationwide, fast-spreading student road blockade movement, the government bowed to the ultimatum of demonstrators, agreeing to meet their demands in phases.

Quick changes to the laws

The government promised safer roads and a clampdown against illegal bus drivers. And the country’s relevant traffic departments are already implementing some of the demands, which include:

  • The vigorous checking of vehicles for roadworthiness;
  • Increasing the number of police check posts;
  • Strictly fining offenders;
  • Punishing drivers and owners for driving unroadworthy vehicles on the roads.

The government also amended the country’s traffic laws.

In early August, cabinet approved the Road Transport Act 2018, which changed the maximum sentence for death in a road accident to five years without bail, from a previous maximum of three years with bail. Fines ranging from USD 50 to USD 200 for speeding and other traffic offences were also imposed. The act will soon be passed into law by parliament.

The effect of the clampdown is often noticeable on Dhaka’s streets. Motorcyclists now wear helmets and private cars and buses are also forced to drive in their demarcated lanes, instead of driving all over the road as previously. Speeding is virtually absent and the use of indicator lights when turning is mandatory.

The police and road safety departments have substantially increased their vigilance and checking, according to officials in these departments.

Some feel sentences are too lenient

But Kanchan tells IPS that activists had called for a maximum sentence of 10 years imprisonment and were dissatisfied with the new proposed act.

“We had proposed a minimum sentence of five years instead. We had also proposed punishing not only the drivers [responsible for] accidents but also the [vehicle] owners for neglecting to comply with the laws.

“This clearly shows how serious the governments [is] about road safety,” Kanchan says.

Recent research by the Accident Research Institute at Bangladesh’s University of Engineering and Technology shows that reckless driving and speeding cause 90 percent of the 6,200 road accidents that occur in the country each year.

The report also shows that in the past three and a half years over 25,000 people were killed in road accidents alone—about 20 people per day. And over 62,000 people were permanently injured or maimed during that same timeframe. In addition, the Bangladesh loses USD 4.7 billion from these accidents—about two percent of the country’s GDP—each year.

Well-known architect and outspoken social activist, Mubasshar Hussain, tells IPS: “I am very hopeful of a better situation as the government is showing signs of bringing safety on the roads but the point is we let this situation reach its limits. In general we are too tolerant and seldom challenge or protest crimes committed by the unruly drivers.”

“I also see a lack of seriousness from the traffic division who control and are responsible for maintaining order on the streets. Despite checking, [unsafe] vehicles and illegal drivers are still allowed to drive on the streets and it is a shame that despite such a stir the same crimes are taking place again,” he says.

“In true sense we require massive plans on infrastructure development, equipment support, strengthening of institutions and building capacities to see an overall improvement in public road safety,” Hussain adds.

Numerous police check points and mobile courts

Sheikh Mohammad Mahbub-e-Rabbani, director of the road safety wing of Bangladesh Road Transport Authority, tells IPS things have changed on the roads.

“I don’t think the observations are correct,” he says responding to the criticism.

“Things have drastically changed as you can already see on the streets of Dhaka and other cities. We have launched massive police check posts with mobile courts to give on the spot decisions for any offence. Far more numbers of police have been deployed to keep vigil and check any offence.”

“The records of fines and punishments for fake licenses and registration documents in the last three weeks show the difference. Such a drive to bring offenders to book could soon bring better safety standards on the roads,” says Rabbani.

However, some are concerned that the powerful lobbying power of transport owners means that amendments to the laws are not strong enough and that corrupt police officers will continue to overlook their transgressions.

“It is indeed also frustrating that the amendments are largely ‘dictated’ by the transport owners’ bodies that are known to exert pressure on the lawmakers to sway clauses of laws in their favour,” Kanchan accuses.

Mozammel Huque, Secretary General of Passenger Welfare Association of Bangladesh, a civil society body, tells IPS that, “the transport owners and workers are very powerful.”

“Two separate systems largely work on the roads of Bangladesh. One is [comprised of] the businessmen who run the affairs of the transport system and continue to enforce the illegal driving of unroadworthy vehicles by unskilled drivers on the streets every day.

“Millions of taka is allegedly traded as bribes to overlook such crimes. In the other system, traffic police or highway police monitor and check on private vehicles and drivers who largely comply with the road safety rules and regulations,” Huque says.

But Khondoker Enaeytullah, the general secretary of Bangladesh Sarak Paribahan Malik Samity (Bangladesh Transport Owners Association), tells IPS: “The transport owners are complying with the demands for stricter fines and punishment to the offenders.”

“There are massive changes proposed in the operations of all public transportation in the city. All buses will be regulated by one single authority instead of [being run by] individual owners who control the transport businesses without any accountability and which gives way to unprecedented and unhealthy competition and hence chaos.”

“Once the new system of public bus services is in place, there would be no more competition to pick up passengers and hence no question of speeding. All buses would be inspected for safety and fitness before each leaves to pick up passengers. These new measures will certainly ensure safer roads,” says Enaetullah.

The post Addressing Bangladesh’s Age-Old Public Transportation System appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/addressing-bangladeshs-age-old-public-transportation-system/feed/ 0
2017 Global Findex: Behind the Numbers on Bangladeshhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/2017-global-findex-behind-numbers-bangladesh/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=2017-global-findex-behind-numbers-bangladesh http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/2017-global-findex-behind-numbers-bangladesh/#respond Fri, 10 Aug 2018 09:11:19 +0000 Joep Roest http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=157167 Joep Roest is Senior Financial Sector Specialist, Inclusive Markets, Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP)

The post 2017 Global Findex: Behind the Numbers on Bangladesh appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
Credit: Md Shafiqur Rahman, 2016 CGAP Photo Contest. 2017 Global Findex: Behind the Numbers on Bangladesh

Credit: Md Shafiqur Rahman, 2016 CGAP Photo Contest

By Joep Roest
WASHINGTON DC, Aug 10 2018 (IPS)

On the face of it, the 2017 Global Findex shows that Bangladesh has made great strides toward financial inclusion since the previous Findex was released in 2014.

In that time, the percentage of adults with financial accounts rose from 31 to 50 percent — a gain almost entirely due to a 20 percent increase in bKash mobile money accounts. As remarkable as these advances are, the data also reveal some challenges Bangladesh faces around financial inclusion.

To start with, Bangladesh has a lot going for it that help explain these overall gains. Its economy has done well over the past decade, with annual growth of 5 to 7 percent.

Roughly 20.5 million Bangladeshis escaped poverty between 1991 and 2010, more than halving the poverty rate from 44.2 to 18.5 percent. The increase in spending power likely fuels the growing demand for financial services.

Findex shows that 65 percent of Bangladeshi men have accounts while only 36 percent of women have accounts. Intermedia’s Financial Inclusion Insights survey bears this out, too. Of all its measured demographics, women saw the least growth in financial inclusion. Why are women being left behind?

The fact that Bangladesh is one of the most densely populated countries in the world (three times more so than India) also works to its advantage when it comes to financial inclusion.

Banks, mobile network operators and other providers can cover large portions of the country’s 161 million people with relatively little infrastructure.

According to Intermedia, the percentage of the population living within 5 km of an access point jumped from 89 percent in 2013 to 92 percent in 2017, putting Bangladesh far ahead of other countries in South Asia.

This is important because studies show that proximity to an agent greatly increases the likelihood of use of financial services.

Bangladesh also enjoys rapidly improving mobile phone and internet connectivity, which has no doubt fueled the remarkable 20 percent surge in mobile money account ownership. In 2010, just 32 percent of the population subscribed to mobile services.

That number rose to 54 percent in 2017. Over the same period, mobile internet connectivity grew from 26 to 33 percent. Of course, there is still a lot of room for improvement. More than 70 million people still do not subscribe to mobile services at all.

Nevertheless, the growing popularity of cell phones is creating new opportunities for a new class of providers like bKash to reach customers with mobile financial services.

For all of these impressive gains, Findex also points to significant challenges for Bangladesh. A stark gender gap stands out. As my colleague Mayada El-Zoghbi discussed in an earlier post, Bangladesh is among a number of countries like Pakistan, Jordan and Nigeria whose overall advances in financial inclusion have left women behind.

In fact, Bangladesh’s gender gap in financial access grew a whopping 20 percentage points from 2014 to 2017. At 29 percentage points, it is now one of the largest gender gaps in the world.

 

Source: Mayada El-Zoghbi, “Measuring Women’s Financial Inclusion: The 2017 Findex Story”

Source: Mayada El-Zoghbi, “Measuring Women’s Financial Inclusion: The 2017 Findex Story”

 

Overall, Findex shows that 65 percent of Bangladeshi men have accounts while only 36 percent of women have accounts. Intermedia’s Financial Inclusion Insights survey bears this out, too. Of all its measured demographics, women saw the least growth in financial inclusion.

Why are women being left behind? It has often been noted that cultural norms play a role in Bangladesh, limiting women’s access to accounts and agents. While these constraints certainly play a big role, another related factor is the disparity in access to mobile phones.

According to Intermedia, 76 percent of Bangladeshi men own a phone, but just 47 percent of women can say the same. Since most of the country’s gains in financial inclusion have been driven by mobile financial services, this is a significant constraint for women.

Another challenge in Bangladesh, and a likely reason why overall financial inclusion numbers are not even higher, is the fact that its mobile financial services ecosystem has yet to mature to the point where a stream of innovative offerings entice more people to use digital financial services.

Although 18 mobile financial services providers are active in Bangladesh, bKash claims 80 percent market share. Its main competitor, Dutch-Bangla Bank Limited, has enjoyed moderate success but not enough to make much of an impression on the overall market.

As Findex shows, having such a dominant player in the market is a blessing and a curse. bKash has considerably increased people’s access to financial services. At the same time, the lack of competition has stifled innovation. There are few compelling mobile financial services in Bangladesh beyond person-to-person (P2P) transfers, which are the bread and butter of bKash’s business.

The lack of use cases beyond P2P transfers may be one of the reasons why over-the-counter transactions — in which people use agents’ accounts to transfer money so they don’t have to sign up for their own accounts — comprise 70 percent of total transactions, even though they are officially not permitted. People just don’t see good enough reasons to sign up for their own accounts.

Government policy has played a significant role in both driving these advances in financial inclusion and holding them back. On the one hand, the government’s “Digital Bangladesh” initiative and government-to-person (G2P) digitization programs have increased the number of people with financial accounts.

For example, in just six months, payments provider SureCash and the Ministry of Education enrolled 10 million poor women with accounts, into which they receive stipends. Programs like this can help close the gender gap.

Even more encouraging, the government has been exploring interoperable payments infrastructure that works beyond G2P. There is also momentum to clarify electronic know-your-customer requirements, which would make it easier for providers to use biometric identity verification and extend services to the poor.

On the other hand, mobile financial services regulations have been partly responsible for the lack of competition and innovation in the mobile financial services space. The market is open to banks and bank subsidiaries, but not nonbanks in general.

For instance, mobile network operators have a long-standing interest in directly providing mobile financial services to customers but have not been allowed to do so. As a result, bKash sits atop the market with only lackluster competition from banks.

A key question for the future of financial inclusion in Bangladesh will be to what extent FinTech players will be allowed to capitalize on the country’s generally favorable conditions around connectivity, scale and distribution. Another important question is to what extent international actors will shape the market.

Ant Financial’s recent stake in bKash may shake up the entire space. If their entry into other Asian markets is any indication, they take an active approach to their investments and will inject a much-needed stimulus into Bangladesh’s sleepy digital financial services space.

 

The post 2017 Global Findex: Behind the Numbers on Bangladesh appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

Joep Roest is Senior Financial Sector Specialist, Inclusive Markets, Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP)

The post 2017 Global Findex: Behind the Numbers on Bangladesh appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/2017-global-findex-behind-numbers-bangladesh/feed/ 0
Shipping and Industry Threaten Famed Home of the Bengal Tigerhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/shipping-industry-threaten-famed-home-bengal-tiger/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=shipping-industry-threaten-famed-home-bengal-tiger http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/shipping-industry-threaten-famed-home-bengal-tiger/#respond Sat, 19 May 2018 11:23:43 +0000 Naimul Haq http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155835 Toxic chemical pollution in the Sundarbans, the largest mangrove forest in the world, is threatening thousands of marine and forest species and has environmentalists deeply concerned about the future of this World Heritage Site. Repeated mishaps have already dumped toxic materials like sulfur, hydrocarbons, chorine, magnesium, potassium, arsenic, lead, mercury, nickel, vanadium, beryllium, barium, cadmium, […]

The post Shipping and Industry Threaten Famed Home of the Bengal Tiger appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
A sunken ship after it was salvaged in the Sundarbans last year. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

A sunken ship after it was salvaged in the Sundarbans last year. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

By Naimul Haq
DHAKA, Bangladesh, May 19 2018 (IPS)

Toxic chemical pollution in the Sundarbans, the largest mangrove forest in the world, is threatening thousands of marine and forest species and has environmentalists deeply concerned about the future of this World Heritage Site.

Repeated mishaps have already dumped toxic materials like sulfur, hydrocarbons, chorine, magnesium, potassium, arsenic, lead, mercury, nickel, vanadium, beryllium, barium, cadmium, chromium, selenium, radium and many more into the waters. They’re killing plankton – a microscopic organism critical for the survival of marine life inside the wild forest."Obviously, such cargo accidents involving shipment of toxic heavy metals inside the Sundarbans would have irreversible impacts on this unique and compact ecosystem." --Sharif Jamil

Scientific studies warn the sudden drastic fall in the plankton population may affect the entire food chain in the Sundarbans in the near future, starving the life in the rivers and in the forest.

The latest incident involved the sinking of a coal-loaded cargo ship on April 14 deep inside the forest, popularly known as the home of the endangered Royal Bengal Tigers, once again outraging environmentalists.

Despite strong opposition by leading environmental organizations vowing to protect the biodiversity in the Sundarbans, which measure about 10,000 square kilometers of forest facing the Bay of Bengal in Bangladesh in South Asia, policy makers have largely ignored conservation laws that prioritise protecting the wildlife in the forest.

Critics say influential businessmen backed by politicians are more interested in building industries on cheap land around the forest that lie close to the sea for effortless import of the substances causing the environmental damage.

Divers from the Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA) have traced the latest sunken vessel lying some 30 feet deep underwater, but they have not been able to salvage the ship.

It is the third to have capsized in less than two years in the ecologically sensitive region, some of which remains untouched by human habitation.

The deadliest accident occurred on Dec. 9, 2014. Amid low visibility, an oil tanker collided with a cargo vessel, spilling over 350,000 liters of crude oil into the Shela River, one of the many tributaries that crisscross the forest – home to rare wildlife species like the Bengal Tiger and Irrawaddy dolphin.

Then, in May 2017, a cargo ship carrying about 500 metric tons of fertilizer sank in the Bhola River in the Sundarbans. In October the same year, a coal-laden vessel carrying an almost equal weight of coal sunk into the meandering shallow Pashur River.

Each time toxic materials pollute the rivers, the government comes up with a consoling statement claiming that the coal has ‘safe’ levels of sulfur and mercury which are the main concern of the environmentalists.

Outraged by official inaction, many leading conservationists expressed their grievances at this “green-washing.”

Sharif Jamil, Joint Secretary of Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon or BAPA, told IPS, “I feel ashamed to know that such a scientifically untrue and dishonest statement of one cargo owner (safe level of sulfur and mercury) was endorsed by our government in their reports and acts which significantly damages the credibility of the government and questions the competency of the concerned authorities.”

“Obviously, such cargo accidents involving shipment of toxic heavy metals inside the Sundarbans would have irreversible impacts on this unique and compact ecosystem,” he said.

Jamil criticized the state agency responsible for protecting the environment, saying, “The department of environment or DoE has responsibility to monitor and control the pollution by ensuring punishment to the polluters. We have not witnessed any action from DoE so far, in this case particularly.”

While coal may not be as environmentally destructive as crude oil spill, the commercial shipping path across the Sundarbans has a long track record of disasters.

Professor Abdullah Harun, who teaches environmental science at the University of Khulna, told IPS, “The cargo ship disasters are proving to be catastrophic and destructive for the wildlife in the Sundarbans. We have already performed a series of studies titled ‘Impact of Oil Spillage on the Environment of Sundarbans’.

“Laboratory tests showed startling results as the toxic levels in many dead species and water samples were found way beyond our imagination. The most alarming is the loss of phytoplankton and zooplankton diversity and populations. Both these are known to play vital role in the food chain of the aquatic environment.”

Professor Harun fears that the embryos of oil-coated Sundari seeds, decomposed as a result of the spillage across 350 square km of land, will not be germinating. Sundari trees make up the mangrove forest and it has specialised roots which emerge above ground and help in gaseous exchange.

He said, “A primary producer of the aquatic ecosystems, source of food and nutrient of the many aquatic animals, has been affected by the oil spill in 2014. The aquatic population will be decreased and long-term impacts on aquatic lives like loss of breeding capacity, habitat loss, injury of respiratory organs, hearts and skins will occur.”

He said, “Our team of scientists tested for the fish larvae population. Before the 2014 disaster we found about 6,000 larvae in a litre of water collected from rivers in the Sundarbans. After the disaster we carried out the same test but found less than half (2,500 fish larvae) in the same amount of water. This is just one species I am talking about. Isn’t it alarming enough?”

Following the latest incident, the government imposed a ban on cargo ships using the narrow channels of the Pashur River where most of the vessels sail. But there are fears that the ban will only be a temporary measure as seen in the past. After the December 2014 oil spill, a similar ban on commercial cargo was lifted soon after.

These ‘ban games’ on cargo vessels will not solve the underlying problems in the Sundarbans. Several hundred activists recently marched towards the mangrove forest in Bagerhat to protest plans to build a coal-based power plant near the Sundarbans near Rampal. The activists called on the government to stop construction of the proposed 1.3-gigawatt Rampal Power Plant, which is located about 14-km upstream of the forest.

Environmentalists are also worried about rapid industrialization near the Sundarbans. The Department of Environment (DoE) has identified 190 commercial and industrial plants operating within 10 kilometres of the forest.

It has labeled ‘red’ 24 of these establishments as they are dangerously close to the world heritage site and polluting the soil, water and air of the world’s largest mangrove forest.

Eminent environmentalist Professor Ainun Nishat, told IPS, “My main worries are whether the main concerns for safety of the wildlife in the forest is being overlooked.”

Professor Nishat said, “If we allow movement of vessels to carry shipments through the forest then I like to question a few things like, where does the coal come from? What do we do with the fly ash from cement and other materials? How and where do we dispose of the waste and do we have the cooling waters for safety?”

“What we need is a strategic impact assessment before any such industrial plant is established so that we can be safe before we repeat such mishaps,” said Nishat.

Statistics from the Mongla (sea) Port Authority show that navigation in the Sundarbans waterways has increased 236 percent in the last seven years. This means vessel-based regular pollution may continue to impact the world’s largest mangrove habitat’s health even if disasters like the Sundarbans oil spill can be prevented.

Increasing volume of shipping and navigation indicates growing industrialisation in the Sundarbans Impact Zone and the Sundarbans Ecologically Critical Area, which in turn will increase the land-based source of pollution if not managed.

The Sundarbans is a UNESCO World Heritage Site which hosts range of animals and fish like fishing cats, leopard cats, macaques, wild boar, fox, jungle cat, flying fox, pangolin, chital, sawfish, butter fish, electric rays, silver carp, starfish, common carp, horseshoe crabs, prawn, shrimps, Gangetic dolphins, skipping frogs, common toads and tree frogs.

There are over 260 species of birds, including openbill storks, black-capped kingfishers, black-headed ibis, water hens, coots, pheasant-tailed jacanas, pariah kites, brahminy kite, marsh harriers, swamp partridges and red junglefowl.

The post Shipping and Industry Threaten Famed Home of the Bengal Tiger appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/shipping-industry-threaten-famed-home-bengal-tiger/feed/ 0
Celebrations Herald a New Set of Hurdles for Bangladeshhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/03/celebrations-herald-new-set-hurdles-bangladesh/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=celebrations-herald-new-set-hurdles-bangladesh http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/03/celebrations-herald-new-set-hurdles-bangladesh/#respond Tue, 27 Mar 2018 23:49:02 +0000 A.Z.M. Anas http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155052 Bangladesh’s great strides in human development were widely celebrated this month, although they come at the potential cost of Western trade benefits that have helped underpin the nation’s export success for decades. On March 15, Bangladesh became eligible to graduate from Least Developed Country status after a United Nations policy panel said the South Asian […]

The post Celebrations Herald a New Set of Hurdles for Bangladesh appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
Between March 20 and 25, Bangladesh celebrated the graduation with colourful rallies, service week for citizens by the government agencies, cultural programmes, laser shows and fireworks. Credit: A.Z.M. Anas/IPS

Laser show and fireworks at the Bangabandhu National Stadium in downtown Dhaka on March 22 as part of the celebration marking Bangladesh’s graduation to a developing country. Credit: A.Z.M. Anas/IPS

By A.Z.M. Anas
DHAKA, Mar 27 2018 (IPS)

Bangladesh’s great strides in human development were widely celebrated this month, although they come at the potential cost of Western trade benefits that have helped underpin the nation’s export success for decades.

On March 15, Bangladesh became eligible to graduate from Least Developed Country status after a United Nations policy panel said the South Asian nation met all three criteria for income, human development and vulnerability to shocks. This will likely pave the way for the country’s graduation to a developing nation by 2024, pending reviews.Almost 100 percent enrolment in primary schooling and improved nutrition are the areas where Bangladesh has fared better than its most of its South Asian peers, including India and Pakistan. 

Next course is ‘not easy’   

After graduation, the loss will be most pronounced in the European Union market, where around 98 percent of Bangladesh’s exports enjoy duty-free entry. In the event of preference erosion, this means an additional 8.7 percent tariff in the EU market alone.

Overall, additional tariffs will be 6.7 percent, which will lead to export losses of 2.7 billion dollars, equal to around 8 percent of the country’s annual exports, according to an estimate by the Centre for Policy Dialogue, a Dhaka-based think-tank.

AMA Muhith, Bangladesh’s finance minister, is well aware of the challenging path ahead.

“Once you’re graduated, the next course is not easy,” acknowledged the 85-year-old finance minister in an interview with IPS.

Bangladesh stands to lose the duty-free privileges it enjoyed as a poor country, though the status change will not take effect for six years, he said.

Still, he felt proud and satisfied with Bangladesh’s promotion from a “world beggar to a self-assured country.”

Muhith, who was responsible for mobilising aid for the young nation in the 1970s as a civil servant, said that the graduation is a proper response to those who once mocked Bangladesh as an international “basket case.”

Tackling challenges

Commerce ministry officials said signing preferential trade agreements with destination countries and negotiating with the EU for GSP plus facility are among the steps the government has been working to counteract the trade shocks.

To prepare for the change, Bangladesh has been borrowing from bilateral partners like Japan and multilaterals such as the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank at higher interest rates.

To implement 10 megaprojects like a seaport in southeastern Matarbari, the government is looking at a combination of concessional and non-concessional loans, Muhith said.

Indeed, foreign aid is an area where Bangladesh has started feeling the heat.

But tackling the challenge is not going to be an easy ride.

The country’s taxation to GDP (gross domestic product) ratio is among the lowest in the world, which is unlikely to improve the situation unless the new VAT legislation is enforced next year.

Finance Minister AMA Muhith handed a replica of the UN’s recognition letter to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wazed at a reception accorded to her in the capital. 

Finance Minister AMA Muhith handed a replica of the UN’s recognition letter to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wazed at a reception accorded to her in the capital. Credit: PID (Press Information Department) Photo

A story of progress

That said, Bangladesh’s socio-economic progress, human development and its economic resilience contributed to improvements in all three indices of the Committee for Development Policy.

Merchandise shipments coupled with money sent home by an estimated 10 million overseas Bangladeshis has left the economy in fine fettle, with economic growth averaging 6.26 percent over the past decade.

And gross income per head reached 1,274 dollars, up from the 1,230-dollar threshold for graduation. By 2015, the country became a lower middle-income country.

And prudent macro-economic management has kept the rate of inflation low—pegged at between 5-6 per cent—even if the rate was once as high as 45 per cent.

Food production has nearly tripled to roughly 40 million tonnes since 1972, a year after the country’s independence.

The country has also achieved self-sufficiency in fish and meat production and Muhith said Bangladesh could emerge as a meat exporting nation in two years.

Burgeoning middle class

The middle class, which makes up one-fifth of the country’s population of 160 million, is mostly driving consumption that accounts for 70 percent of the economy.

The beneficiaries of the middle class boom are local and multinational businesses alike.

One winner is American fast food chain Burger King, which broke into the Bangladesh market in late 2016 and now has seven outlets.

“We hope graduation will be expedited. Then we’ll have more business as people’s income will go up,” said Tarique Ekramul Haque, managing director at BanglaCAT, which operates Burger King’s outlets in Bangladesh as a franchisee.

Sustained growth has helped 50 million people leave poverty. The rate of poverty fell from more than 44 percent in the 1990s to 24 percent now, according to the World Bank.

Almost 100 percent enrolment in primary schooling and improved nutrition are the areas where Bangladesh has fared better than its most of its South Asian peers, including India and Pakistan.

Bangladesh managed to exceed the threshold on human assets index in 2016, propelled by efforts from the government and non-government groups The index includes child and maternal deaths, undernourishment, adult schooling and adult literacy.

The country performed well in reducing its economic vulnerability as well, helped in part by greater export stability and diversification.

Opportunities beckon

Graduation is not all about challenges; it is a matter of opportunities too.

The finance minister is hopeful about getting a “substantial” flow of foreign investment in the post-graduation period.

“It means a lot,” Ahsan H. Mansur, executive director at the Policy Research Institute, a Dhaka-based think-tank, told IPS. “It’s a recognition.”

This graduation will not only widen the market access but ensure access to international financial resources, said Mansur, stressing the optimal use of money in a country where corruption remains endemic.

He hoped that the growth momentum the country achieved will be sustained.

Next agenda

To harness the full potential of graduation, he said the medium-term agenda of the government should be to cut the cost of doing business.

Mansur, a former senior executive of the International Monetary Fund, gave the examples of expensive ports and transportation services, saying costs should be brought down to improve the country’s global business ranking.

He laid emphasis on much broader and faster reforms, saying that infrastructure has to be developed with “right costs” and legal and land reforms need to be accelerated.

In the long-term, he argued that workers’ productivity has to be augmented through massive training and changing the education system.

To Muhith’s mind, the graduation took place thanks in part to the pragmatic policy of reconstruction and development in the post-independence period and able leadership such as prime minister, Sheikh Hasina whom he called one of “the established leaders in the world.”

Indeed, it was a moment of joy for Bangladesh. Between March 20 and 25, the country celebrated the graduation with colourful rallies, service week for citizens by the government agencies, cultural programmes, laser shows and fireworks.

On March 22, Muhith handed out a replica of the UN’s recognition letter to the prime minister at a reception accorded to her in the capital.

Coinciding with the celebration, an international seminar on ‘Bangladesh Graduation from LDC Status: Opportunities and Way Forward’ with top UN officials was organised in Dhaka on March 23.

The post Celebrations Herald a New Set of Hurdles for Bangladesh appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/03/celebrations-herald-new-set-hurdles-bangladesh/feed/ 0
A ‘Multicultural Jewel’ in Rome: Migrants and Italians Mingle at Esquilino Markethttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/03/multicultural-jewel-rome-migrants-italians-mingle-esquilino-market/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=multicultural-jewel-rome-migrants-italians-mingle-esquilino-market http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/03/multicultural-jewel-rome-migrants-italians-mingle-esquilino-market/#comments Thu, 08 Mar 2018 00:11:32 +0000 Maged Srour http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154693 The Esquilino market, built at the end of the 1800s, is a pillar of Roman traditional daily shopping. It managed to survive the Fascist period and two world wars: it’s a veteran of the city. After being outdoors in the square of Piazza Vittorio for more than a century, on Sep. 15, 2001 it moved […]

The post A ‘Multicultural Jewel’ in Rome: Migrants and Italians Mingle at Esquilino Market appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
The post A ‘Multicultural Jewel’ in Rome: Migrants and Italians Mingle at Esquilino Market appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/03/multicultural-jewel-rome-migrants-italians-mingle-esquilino-market/feed/ 1
Women Peace Laureates Condemn Inaction on Rohingya “Genocide”http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/03/women-peace-laureates-condemn-inaction-rohingya-genocide/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=women-peace-laureates-condemn-inaction-rohingya-genocide http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/03/women-peace-laureates-condemn-inaction-rohingya-genocide/#respond Fri, 02 Mar 2018 15:37:46 +0000 Naimul Haq http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154587 Nobel Laureates Mairead Maguire, Shirin Ebadi and Tawakkol Karman met with more than 100 women refugees in camps in the coastal Cox’s Bazar region of Bangladesh this week, as well as travelling to the “no man’s land” where thousands of Rohingya have been stranded between Myanmar and Bangladesh. Mairead Maguire of Northern Ireland and Shirin Ebadi […]

The post Women Peace Laureates Condemn Inaction on Rohingya “Genocide” appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
Rohingya people alight from a boat as they arrive at Shahparir Dip in Teknaf, Bangladesh. Credit: IPS

Rohingya people alight from a boat as they arrive at Shahparir Dip in Teknaf, Bangladesh. Credit: IPS

By Naimul Haq
DHAKA, Mar 2 2018 (IPS)

Nobel Laureates Mairead Maguire, Shirin Ebadi and Tawakkol Karman met with more than 100 women refugees in camps in the coastal Cox’s Bazar region of Bangladesh this week, as well as travelling to the “no man’s land” where thousands of Rohingya have been stranded between Myanmar and Bangladesh.

Mairead Maguire of Northern Ireland and Shirin Ebadi of Iran spoke to IPS correspondent Naimul Haq in the Bangladesh capital Dhaka.

Maguire is a co-founder of Peace People, a movement committed to building a just and peaceful society in Northern Ireland. She and Betty Williams won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1976. She is well known for her work with victims of conflict around the world.

Shirin Ebadi is an Iranian lawyer, former judge and human rights activist and founder of the Defenders of Human Rights Center in Iran. Ebadi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003 for her pioneering efforts for democracy and human rights, especially women’s, children’s, and refugee rights.

From left to right (center), Tawakkol Karman, Shirin Ebadi and Mairead Maguire. IPS correspondent Naimul Haq stands behind Ms. Maguire. Credit: IPS

From left to right (center), Tawakkol Karman, Shirin Ebadi and Mairead Maguire. IPS correspondent Naimul Haq stands behind Ms. Maguire. Credit: IPS

Following are excerpts from the exclusive interviews.

IPS: You have called for trials of the Myanmar leaders in the International Criminal Court (ICC) for committing alleged genocide. How do you intend to seek justice when the world seems to be so divided over the Rohingya issue?

Mairead Maguire: “The leaders in Myanmar have committed genocide and we have all the witnesses for that. We heard women [speak of] being tortured, raped and their homes being burnt.”

Maguire related the story of a woman who was raped repeatedly and left for dead.

“The unconscious woman was later picked up by an elderly woman who took her to safety. That story of that woman being raped can be multiplied many times and you can well imagine the situation. So obviously we can understand that this is a policy of the Myanmar government to terrorize and expel the Rohingya people. They don’t even recognize them as their citizens. So the international community must take steps to do something. And we must take the Myanmar government to the ICC.

“A lot of people are working on this, like international lawyers, and we will continue until this is fulfilled. The second thing that we want to do is that Aung San Suu Kyi is our sister laureate. We believe that as long as she remains silent about what the Myanmar government is doing she is complacent with the genocide. But we want to go and see Aung San Suu Kyi and we want to ask her to break her silence.”

Maguire explained that she and her colleagues wish to speak to envoys of as many countries as possible.

“We would continue to pursue this dialogue with the ambassadors and leaders of the governments. We would also contact the United Nations and the European Parliament until this is taken to the international court.

IPS: What is your opinion on the voices of the global community, especially the influential leaders, remaining silent to a large extent on the Rohingya issue?

“I think many governments have interests in Myanmar, especially economic. In Rakhine state there are lot of resources like diamonds and costly stones. It’s all about money and oil. China also has interests in Maynmar because of these reasons. Unfortunately, many governments put profits before people. It should be other way around – governments should be responsible for taking care of their people. But they don’t want to say anything on human rights and justice because of political interests. However, we have to say as leaders, as Nobel Laureates, people are important, every person is important and it is wrong because of economic and political ties to allow people to be destroyed like this. We have to speak out and move the world’s conscience.

A Rohingya woman and her child at a refugee camp in Bangladesh. Credit: Kamrul Hasan/IPS

A Rohingya woman and her child at a refugee camp in Bangladesh. Credit: Kamrul Hasan/IPS

IPS: Do you believe that the United Nations has played its due role?

“No, the UN has not done enough. Human beings have a right to life, right to security and the governments must defend those rights of their people. And we have seen what the Myanmar government has done. I was there as part of a Nobel delegation 18 years ago on the Thai border with Myanmar and witnessed Karen people living in refugee camps who had to flee Burma. I had met many women then who were raped and carrying children of Burmese soldiers. So what we have seen in Cox’s Bazar [Rohingyas] the situation is not new. The Burmese military has been doing this for a long, long time.”

IPS: How can media coverage help bring justice to the victims?

“Women told us their stories of children being beaten, women being raped and their husbands being killed and houses burnt, which were absolutely horrific. The surviving women wanted us to tell their stories to the world so that their sufferings are known and they can then seek justice. They can have their national identity and go back to where they belong. So IPS can tell the real stories because when people hear these stories they cannot ignore them. We need the media like you. Because people don’t believe. It is diabolical what the Burmese soldiers have done to the Rohingya people, thinking nobody will know – but when you bring the truth to the light of day they cannot continue like this.”

Asked about the role of Bangladesh in welcoming the Rohingya refugees, she said, “It’s a wonderful example to other countries who have refugees on their borders. You have opened doors for a million or more and Europe is closing their doors. It is indeed a contrasting situation. When we went to the camps I was so astonished to see how well-organised they were. It’s wonderful to see how the government and the NGOs were working together.”

IPS: How can Myanmar be brought before the ICC?

Shirin Ebadi: Unfortunately, Myanmar is not a signatory to the Rome Statute [convention] for the ICC. So the only way this can happen is for the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to decide to send the case of Myanmar to the ICC as they did in the case of Sudan.

What has happened to the Rohingya people is indeed a crime of genocide. In fact, the United Nations, the United States, the European Union has all acknowledged that it is genocide. That is why I am very much hopeful that the UNSC will debate this case but my only concern is China as a member of the UNSC may use its right to veto because of its economic interests in Myanmar.”

Ebadi also called on the wealthy Muslim countries, such as Iran, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait, to do more for the Muslim-minority Rohingya.

“They are not giving any assistance, or they are giving very little. They prefer to spend their money on buying weapons which they use for killing people. So, my message to them is come and see the plight of the fellow Muslims and how they are being treated and my message is also to the Islamic countries – shame on you for not helping.”

What message would you give to your fellow Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi? And do you also hold her responsible for the situation?

“I am indeed very sorry Aung San Suu Kyi, a person whom I had campaigned for on many occasions when she was under house arrest to secure her release, has now become complacent in the crime against the Rohingyas. My message to Aung San Suu Kyi is you have to break your silence now. You have to stop the genocide otherwise you would be held responsible and you must answer for your crimes at the international criminal court.”

The Nobel Women’s Initiative, in partnership with the local Bangladeshi women’s organization, Naripokkho, hosted the delegation of the Nobel Laureates to Bangladesh to witness and highlight the situation of the Rohingya refugees and the violence against Rohingya women.

Tawakkol Karman was known as “The Mother of the Revolution” and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011 in recognition of her work in nonviolent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peacebuilding work in Yemen.

The post Women Peace Laureates Condemn Inaction on Rohingya “Genocide” appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/03/women-peace-laureates-condemn-inaction-rohingya-genocide/feed/ 0
Monsoon Season Threatens More Misery for Rohingyashttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/monsoon-season-threatens-misery-rohingyas/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=monsoon-season-threatens-misery-rohingyas http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/monsoon-season-threatens-misery-rohingyas/#comments Wed, 28 Feb 2018 00:09:37 +0000 Naimul Haq http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154530 More than half a million Rohingya refugees crammed into over 30 makeshift camps in Cox’s Bazar in southeast Bangladesh face a critical situation as the cyclone and monsoon season begins in a few weeks’ time. The United Nations and international and local NGOs, along with the Bangladeshi government, have issued emergency calls to safeguard the […]

The post Monsoon Season Threatens More Misery for Rohingyas appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
Labourers urgently construct new roads ahead of the monsoon season in Bangladesh’s Kutupalong Rohingya camp. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

Labourers urgently construct new roads ahead of the monsoon season in Bangladesh’s Kutupalong Rohingya camp. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

By Naimul Haq
DHAKA, Feb 28 2018 (IPS)

More than half a million Rohingya refugees crammed into over 30 makeshift camps in Cox’s Bazar in southeast Bangladesh face a critical situation as the cyclone and monsoon season begins in a few weeks’ time.

The United Nations and international and local NGOs, along with the Bangladeshi government, have issued emergency calls to safeguard the population, especially those who are most vulnerable.

Already burdened with the world’s largest refugee crisis, the host country and its partners remain concerned at the slow pace of action on the ground, although preparations are already underway.

The biggest threat is the terrible conditions in the camps, most of which are frail shelters made up of bamboo sticks and plastic tarpaulins unlikely to stand up to gusting winds and heavy downpours.

In mid-January, Edouard Beigbeder, UNICEF Country Representative in Bangladesh, sent out a press statement saying, “As we get closer to the cyclone and monsoon seasons, what is already a dire humanitarian situation risks becoming a catastrophe. Hundreds of thousands of children are already living in horrific conditions, and they will face an even greater risk of disease, flooding, landslides and further displacement,”

“Unsafe water, inadequate sanitation and poor hygiene conditions can lead to cholera outbreaks and to Hepatitis E, a deadly disease for pregnant women and their babies, while standing water pools can attract malaria-carrying mosquitoes,” he added. “Keeping children safe from disease must be an absolute priority.”

Rohingya women stand next to their partially constructed new home in Kutupalong camp, Bangladesh. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

Rohingya women stand next to their partially constructed new home in Kutupalong camp, Bangladesh. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

Meanwhile, massive preparations are underway in the coastal district located some 350 kilometers southeast of the capital Dhaka, where storms and cyclones are common.

At least 138,000 people along the coastal regions of Cox’s Bazar and Chittagong were killed in the April 1991 cyclone, one of the deadliest of the last century.

“The UN migration agency is providing search and rescue training, setting up emergency medical centres, establishing bases for work crews and light machinery, and upgrading shelters to mitigate disasters when the monsoon and cyclone season hits the world’s biggest refugee settlement in the coming weeks,” Fiona MacGregor, Public Information Officer for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Cox’s Bazar, told IPS.

“As Bangladesh’s annual wet season approaches, IOM is also working to secure infrastructure and boost resilience among Rohingya refugees and the local community,” MacGregor added. “This includes the creation of disaster risk reduction safety committees to warn the refugees of what to expect and how to prepare for the wind and rain that are expected to bring deadly floods and landslides to the Cox’s Bazar camps.”

Most of the Rohingya refugees now live in crowded tarpaulin shelters on extremely slippery and muddy slopes. Unlike in the rest of the country, the terrain in Ukhiya and Teknaf, where the camps are located along the coast, is not flat but hilly.

This man’s strenuous journey shows how difficult it can be to navigate the steep, muddy terrain of Bangladesh’s camps even in clear weather. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

This man’s strenuous journey illustrates how difficult it can be to navigate the steep terrain of Bangladesh’s camps even in clear weather. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

During the heavy monsoon, rushing water along with mud and uprooted trees play havoc, as witnessed in previous years.

Rehana Begum, one of the refugees living in Kutupalong, the biggest camp told IPS, “I experienced losing my own home in 2011. I have also witnessed people being killed during heavy rainfall. Water rushes in from upstream and spares nothing on its way. Even children are known to have been killed in such situations.”

Noor-e-Khatum, a newcomer settling in at Balukhali camp, said, “I feel unsafe at night when howling wind from the sea often blows hard on my roof. It is frightening to sleep at night with children crying for help.”

Studies prepared by IOM and its partners indicate that at least 100,000 refugees and vulnerable families in the local community face life-threatening risks from landslides and floods. Thousands more refugees are also at risk from disease and may be unable to get aid if flooding cuts off access to parts of the camps.

But given the scale of the refugee population, the lack of suitable land, and the challenging environmental conditions, it will be impossible to move everyone at risk. Rapid emergency response action will be vital to reduce loss of life, IOM says.

The government is also coordinating the efforts to safeguard the Rohingya, a Muslim minority who have long faced unprecedented persecution in their ancestral homeland in Rakhine state in neighbouring Myanmar.

A complete fatality count of Rohingyas in Myanmar is unknown, but hundreds of villages have been burned to the ground and a least 6,700 Rohingya met violent deaths in Rakhine in the month after the military’s scorched-earth campaign, according to Doctors Without Borders.

According to numerous eyewitness accounts from refugee women who arrived in Bangladesh, rape and sexual violence were also used as a widespread weapon of war and to force to Rohingya from their homes.

Ali Hussain, Deputy Commissioner of Cox’s Bazar told IPS, “We have identified about 35 percent of the refugee population as vulnerable to extreme weather and plan to shift them immediately to a nearby location on 500 acres of land. We also plan to remove all obstructions on the way of the natural drainage of water and also excavate fish ponds to catch rainwater so that the areas are not flooded.”

Hussain said that the government has sufficient food stocks for the refugees to last until end of the monsoon. Soldiers deployed around the camps are also constructing new asphalt roads to facilitate movement of vehicles coming to the camps.

An anonymous army captain told IPS, “We have massive works of constructing new roads while strengthening the existing ones to facilitate smooth movement of vehicles, especially emergency vehicles like ambulances.”

Hassan Abdi, sexual and reproductive health emergency coordinator from UNFPA, The United Nations Population Fund told IPS, “We are especially concerned about the approximately 48,000 pregnant women who live in these camps and are most vulnerable, moving them to safe shelters within a short period of time can be logistically challenging.  As part of the emergency preparedness we have identified some stable facilities that can then be used to shelter pregnant women who are on their due dates (around 16,000) or expected to deliver within a week till their safe deliveries.

“At the same time,” Abdi continued, “We are also focusing on ensuring there is enough prepositioned stocks of emergency reproductive health kits like clean delivery kits for clean and safe deliveries which will be distributed to visibly pregnant mothers in the camps. Mobile medical teams will be made available to help in screening, pregnancy check-ups and facilitating safe deliveries during the monsoon.”

To enhance resilience in face of the extreme weather ahead, at least 650 people from the refugee and local communities are receiving search and rescue and first aid training from IOM, in collaboration with local Fire Service and Civil Protection Department.

Those trained will act as community focal points in emergency situations, giving early warning messages in the event of any threats of weather disasters and also assisting in first line emergency response, says the deputy commissioner’s office.

With landslides and soft slippery mud expected to cause roadblocks and obstructions of major drains and waterways, it will be crucial to be able to clear these as quickly as possible.

Light machinery will be installed and work crews established at ten strategic points across the camps as part of the Site Maintenance Engineering Project – a joint initiative between IOM, UNHCR and WFP.

Five specialist medical centres are also being established across the district to deal with outbreaks of acute diarrhoea, which are expected due to the impact of flooding on water and sanitation in the camps. This can often lead to fatalities, particularly among children.

Meanwhile, the governments of Bangladesh and Myanmar have agreed to start repatriating some 6,000 refugees, although Bangladesh’s State Minister for Foreign Affairs M Shahriar Alam clarified in remarks on Feb. 25 that no one would be forced to return against their will.

In the meantime, the influx of refugees – which less than it was – continues in the face of ongoing atrocities, now mostly in Maungdaw province, where homes have reportedly been burned, leaving villages like ghost towns.

The post Monsoon Season Threatens More Misery for Rohingyas appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/monsoon-season-threatens-misery-rohingyas/feed/ 1
Bangladesh’s Garment Industry Boom Leaving Workers Behindhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/bangladeshs-garment-industry-boom-leaving-workers-behind/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=bangladeshs-garment-industry-boom-leaving-workers-behind http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/bangladeshs-garment-industry-boom-leaving-workers-behind/#respond Fri, 09 Feb 2018 15:08:37 +0000 Naimul Haq http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154234 Although Bangladesh has made remarkable recent strides like building green factories and meeting stringent safety standards, garment workers here are still paid one of the lowest minimum wages in the world. While the fashion industry thrives in the West, the workers who form the backbone of the 28-billion-dollar annual garment industry in Bangladesh struggle to […]

The post Bangladesh’s Garment Industry Boom Leaving Workers Behind appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
Workers protest for higher wages. Photo Courtesy of the Bangladesh Apparels Workers Federation

Workers protest for higher wages. Photo Courtesy of the Bangladesh Apparels Workers Federation

By Naimul Haq
DHAKA, Feb 9 2018 (IPS)

Although Bangladesh has made remarkable recent strides like building green factories and meeting stringent safety standards, garment workers here are still paid one of the lowest minimum wages in the world.

While the fashion industry thrives in the West, the workers who form the backbone of the 28-billion-dollar annual garment industry in Bangladesh struggle to survive on wages barely above the poverty line.According to Oxfam, a top fashion industry CEO earned in four days the lifetime pay of a factory worker.

Meanwhile, annual export earnings in Bangladesh from the industry grew from about 9.3 billion dollars in 2007 to 28.6 billion in 2016.

Encouraged by the growth, Bangladesh has set a target of exporting 50 billion dollars’ worth of apparel annually by 2021, yet the vision mentions no plans to improve workers’ living conditions.

Out of Bangladesh’s 166 million people, 31 percent live below the national poverty line of two dollars per day. The current minimum wage for a factory worker is 5,300 Taka (about 64 dollars), up from 3,000 Taka in 2013.

As the world’s second largest ready-made garments producer, Bangladesh attracts top labels and companies like Pierre Cardin, Hugo Boss, Wal-Mart, GAP and Levi Strauss, mostly from North America, Europe and very recently Australia, seeking cheap labour.

After the tragic Rana Plaza building collapse in 2013, which took 1,134 lives, top buyers gradually increased investment in infrastructure to as much as 400 million dollars in the 2015-16 fiscal year alone to ensure safer working conditions. However, local industry owners have failed to make corresponding improvements to their workers’ quality of life, 85 percent of whom are women.

Research by the international aid group Oxfam shows that only two percent of the price of an item of clothing sold in Australia, for example, goes to pay the factory workers who made it.

The picture is even worse when it comes to living, food, transport, healthcare and education for the 4.5 million workers employed in about 4,600 vibrant factories. The Oxfam report revealed grim poverty conditions and calculated that a top fashion industry CEO earned in four days the lifetime pay of a factory worker.

There are a number of issues at play, including lack of unity among the 16 trade unions, political pressure by the industry owners, loopholes in the national labour laws and misunderstanding about practical living wages and theoretical minimum wages.

Nazma Aktar, President of the Sommilito Garment Sramik Federation fighting for women’s rights in the garment industry for over three decades, told IPS, “Most buyers have a business perspective on the ready-made garments industry here in Bangladesh. Their interests are widely on exploiting cheap labour.

“The wages should be fixed on the basis of human rights and not negotiate with what the entrepreneurs can offer. Wages are not part of a business, which is why globally it has set obligatory fees like covering cost of basics – living, food, healthcare, education and transport.”

A garment worker in Bangladesh. Photo Courtesy of the Bangladesh Apparels Workers Federation

A garment worker in Bangladesh. Photo Courtesy of the Bangladesh Apparels Workers Federation

The garment  workers’ organisations are demanding Taka 16,000 (about 192 dollars) as the minimum monthly wage, citing rising costs of living. In January, the government formed a panel to initiate what it says will be a permanent wage board and promised to issue recommendations in six months. The unions also plan to seek pay grades depending on the category of worker.

Dr Khondaker Golam Moazzem, Project Director, RMG Study Project and Research Director of the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD), told IPS, “The disturbing low wages still paid to the RMG (Ready-Made Garments) industry workers is largely due to lack of clear definition of wages in the labour laws. As a result, it is very difficult to negotiate raise in wages for the workers.”

Moazzem, who also led a team of researchers in conducting a detailed study titled New Dynamics in Bangladesh’s Apparels Enterprises: Perspectives on Restructuring, Up-gradation and Compliance Assurance, says, “There are nine indicators of wages as defined in the labour law. Unfortunately, except two, the rest are not made public. So it seems that the laws are themselves very complex and misleading on how to define what is low and what is high income. In such a situation we suggest following International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) set definition of wages.”

Dr Nazneen Ahmed, a senior research fellow of Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS), told IPS, “Wages in Bangladesh are still the lowest of major garment manufacturing countries. A large proportion of the RMG products of Bangladesh still can be categorized as low-end products and so the brands continue seeking low-cost labour, though they are unskilled.”

Ahmed, who carried out a detailed study on improving wages and working conditions in the Bangladeshi garment sector, explained that while a higher wage for workers is desirable, they would lead to gradual loss of the RMG market in the days of global competition. A sudden increase in wages would also trigger other industries to seek wage hikes.

“I suggest a separate pay scale for the RMG sector workers which would have a separate wage board to suggest the increases. But most effective would be to have a regular system of yearly wage increases according to rate of inflation. At the same time, we should also look at increasing production of the factory units by enhancing the skills of the workers who will be paid higher wages.

“Therefore I refer to as having a technology advancement plan. If the ‘skilled’ workers are capacitated through regular skill development training programmes, the entrepreneurs would then be able to make more profit and so in such situation I believe the industry owners would not hesitate to pay a higher salary.”

Towhidur Rahman, General Secretary of the IndustriALL Global Union, Bangladesh Chapter (IBC), told IPS, “The minimum wages fixed for any worker at entry level is absolutely unacceptable. I don’t blame the [industry] owners for this. I rather hold the union leaders responsible for their lack of unity and one voice for this situation. The demand for minimum wages should be realistic for survival of any human being.”

Rahman says, “Sadly, today we have 16 RMG workers’ organizations that have separate voices and ideologies. For such reason the entrepreneurs take advantages of lack of understanding among the workers representatives.”

Rahman explains that they proposed Tk 16,000 as minimum wage to the newly formed wage board based on a number of surveys which suggest that a worker requires a minimum of Tk 19,000 for food, shelter, transport, healthcare and other basic needs.

“I believe this is very practical and fair proposal as it is merited with evidence on a minimum living standard,” says Rahman.

Dr Zahid Hussain, a lead economist in the South Asia Finance and Poverty group of the World Bank, told IPS, “Most people naturally focus on wages as a cost of production for business.  The significance of wages as a cost is one component of what economists call ‘real unit labour cost”’. This is the cost of employing a person in terms of the value of the goods and services a business would produce. It depends on two things. The first is the real wage – the purchasing power of the worker’s pay packet, which brings into play prices of goods and services.

“The second is the productivity of the worker – how much the worker produces over a given time,” he explained. “The real cost of employing a person over time depends on how these two things change. If productivity is growing, then the real wage can grow without an increase in the real cost of labor for business. But productivity also depends on investment. Changes in technology that allow for greater productivity are often embodied in the new plant and equipment that firms invest in.

“What governs investment? A simple answer points to the expected rate of return on the investment relative to the cost of capital. So the bottom line is the following:  just increasing minimum wage without addressing the constraints on investment and its financing will most likely kill the goose that lays the golden eggs.  The whole issue of ensuring a better quality of life for the workers needs to be approached holistically such that productivity increases in tandem with wages.”

Siddiqur Rahman, President of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), told IPS that the industry has been offering minimum wages to factory workers considering inflation and efficiency of the workers.

“We do not do any injustice to any of our workers,” Rahman insisted.

The post Bangladesh’s Garment Industry Boom Leaving Workers Behind appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/bangladeshs-garment-industry-boom-leaving-workers-behind/feed/ 0
Breaking Barriers in Bangladeshhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/breaking-barriers-bangladesh/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=breaking-barriers-bangladesh http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/breaking-barriers-bangladesh/#respond Thu, 25 Jan 2018 11:52:52 +0000 Rafiqul Islam Sarker http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153998 It’s nearing 4:30 p.m. on a foggy day, but there seems to be no great hurry amongst the workers to wind up their day in a factory producing high-end designer bags. Located in the Export Processing Zone (EPZ) of Nilphamari, a northern district 40 kilometers from the divisional headquarters of Rangpur in Bangladesh, the area […]

The post Breaking Barriers in Bangladesh appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
Workers at the Export Processing Zone (EPZ) of Nilphamari, Bangladesh. Credit: Rafiqul Islam Sarker/IPS

Workers at the Export Processing Zone (EPZ) of Nilphamari, Bangladesh. Credit: Rafiqul Islam Sarker/IPS

By Rafiqul Islam Sarker
NILPHAMARI, Bangladesh, Jan 25 2018 (IPS)

It’s nearing 4:30 p.m. on a foggy day, but there seems to be no great hurry amongst the workers to wind up their day in a factory producing high-end designer bags. Located in the Export Processing Zone (EPZ) of Nilphamari, a northern district 40 kilometers from the divisional headquarters of Rangpur in Bangladesh, the area is known for creating job opportunities for the local population.

The female and male workers all seem fully engrossed in what they are doing and the atmosphere in the factory is a clear contrast to the noisy hubbub of trucks, buses, three wheelers and motorcycles outside.

While the country’s garment industry is widely known internationally, the tragic deadly collapse of Rana Plaza a few years ago, which left over a thousand workers dead, remains etched in many people’s minds both at home and abroad.

Less known is that the sector has opened up new income opportunities for Bangladeshi women. They have made enormous strides in the past decade, demonstrating how with even a small opportunity to gain skills, they can improve their own lives and those of their families.

The production of thousands of designer bags that end up in the collections of affluent women worldwide and on catwalks internationally is taking place in some countries of the South, and Bangladesh is a prime producer. Several high-end brands are produced in one of many factories in the Nilphamari area that this IPS correspondent visited.

One factory has 4,000 employees, of whom 70 are expatriates appointed by the foreign proprietors who are Hong Kong-based. Over 30,000 people are employed in such factories in the Nilphamari area, and 61 percent are women.

A colourful spectacle unfolds each morning when almost 20 percent of the female employees ride bikes to work in the factories. This is considered quite a big change in a society where women were once relegated to work within their households.

Amena Khatun, 35, who works for a leather factory, told IPS, “I was once unemployed. Now at least 2,000 women from my village of Balapara and two of its adjoining villages located some 10 to 15 km to the north of the EPZ are employed in 10 companies here.

“Twenty years back, women in the villages had no job opportunities and were were hardly allowed to go outside their homes, let alone ride bikes,” she added.
Afrina Begum, 32, a worker at a factory producing wigs and hair products, told IPS that even though the custom of dowry is still prevalent in the villages in Nilphamari, her husband had not demanded a dowry from her parents. Her husband had learned beforehand that she had an income every month as she was employed at a factory. Afrina added that women’s employment in the EPZ has played a major role in changing the outlook of men in a male-dominated society.

The EPZ, defined as a territorial or economic enclave in which goods may be imported and manufactured and then exported without any duties and minimal oversight by customs officials, has factories producing a variety of products for export, including bags, wigs and toys with imported raw materials from China.

The average wage for each worker in the factory producing designer bags is Taka 5600 per month (about 75 dollars) for both men and women. When asked, a couple of women workers said that their income has helped improve the quality of life of their families.

Sahara Khatun, 26, said her husband left for Malaysia to work on a construction site. She lived with her parents and decided to ask them to help to look after her five-year-old daughter while she took on a job in the factory. Sahara said she has acquired skills and is now aware that only high-quality products have a market abroad. Most importantly, she is earning her own money and has a sense of independence and confidence.

The factory has modern equipment with a design and technical centre. Young men and women work side by a side – a major breakthrough for conservative Bangladeshi society.

One of the managers, Pijush Bandhopadhya, explained that all workers have know-how of each stage of production. There are close to 80 steps to be followed and implemented before a bag is ready. The leather, processed beforehand, comes from Italy and the cutting, glueing, and binding of the final product is handled by the factory workers under the supervision of a few expatriate experts.

While the minimum age for employment in the factory is 18, a local government official conceded that many girls lie about their real age to qualify for a job. This has led to underage girls meeting a male coworker and ending up marrying. While child marriage is discouraged by the government, there are no mechanisms in place to prevent it.

The EPZ, popularly known as Uttara (northern), was initiated in 2001 by the Bangladesh Export Processing Zone Authority (BEPZA), an official organ of Bangladesh Government to increase employment opportunities in northern Bangladesh.

Pijush said the unemployment rate was previously high in Nilphamari district. Many people, mostly women, used to migrate to the capital city, Dhaka, or to other southern districts of the country in search of work in the garment sector. But now with the EPZ investment in the district, migration to the capital has fallen significantly.

“This is only because jobs are now available in Uttara EPZ,” said Dewan Kamal Ahmed, the chair of Nilphamari municipality.

Khaleda Akter, 37, of Kazirhat village adjoining Uttara EPZ in Nilphamari district, once worked in the Tazreen Fashion factory in Ashulia on the outskirts of Dhaka. She escaped a disastrous fire in November 2012 that erupted in the factory, as she had gone to visit her native village a week before. After the Ashulia fire incident, she did not want to go back and began looking for a job in the Uttara EPZ.

“Luckily I got a job in Section Seven International Ltd. (Bangladesh) and since then I have been working here. Now I earn about Taka 10,000 (128.20 dollars) a month,” Khaleda said.

“At least 5 percent of the female workers of Uttara EPZ used to work in different garment factories in Dhaka,” said Kazi Mostafizar Rahman, chair of Shangalshi Union Parishad (Union Council). “They are permanent residents of Nilphamari area. Since they had job opportunities nearby their house, they quit Dhaka and availed of the job opportunity close to home.”

An official of the Uttara EPZ who asked to remain anonymous told IPS that garment workers held a demonstration in 2010 to press their demands for implementation of new pay scale. But the protests only lasted a day because the government negotiated and met their demands.

Since then, the EPZ has been calm. Shahid Latif (fictitious name) added that “while the wages compared to richer countries are not good enough, it is the beginning of women’s economic empowerment. Women are benefitting from EPZ and learning skills which with time will help them to claim higher pay.”

To remain a competitive supplier, production costs are low and most entrepreneurs, especially after the disastrous fire in the garment sector of 2012, are more conscious of the working conditions in factories, which have improved quite a lot, thanks also to regulations brought in by the government, stated Latif.

The post Breaking Barriers in Bangladesh appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/breaking-barriers-bangladesh/feed/ 0
Migrants Without Shoeshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/migrants-without-shoes/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=migrants-without-shoes http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/migrants-without-shoes/#comments Tue, 23 Jan 2018 20:51:08 +0000 Vijay Prashad http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153988 Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, 2013. It is past midnight. The aircraft come in from Saudi Arabia carrying workers who had been hastily ejected. They had gone from Ethiopia to work in a variety of jobs in a Kingdom flush with oil wealth. It is December 2013. Ethiopian migrant workers descend from the aircraft. They carry plastic […]

The post Migrants Without Shoes appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
Migrant worker Sahanaz Parben Skypes with her son in Bangladesh. Credit: Shahidul Alam/IPS

Migration has allowed Sahanaz Parben to place her son in an elite cadet college, normally the domain of the well-to-do. She’s bought property in Bangladesh, and when she goes back she hopes to set up on her own. Photo: Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

By Vijay Prashad
DHAKA, Jan 23 2018 (IPS)

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, 2013.

It is past midnight. The aircraft come in from Saudi Arabia carrying workers who had been hastily ejected. They had gone from Ethiopia to work in a variety of jobs in a Kingdom flush with oil wealth.

It is December 2013. Ethiopian migrant workers descend from the aircraft. They carry plastic bags that hold their belongings. There are few signs that they have benefitted from their hard labor in Saudi Arabia. A few of the migrants walk down without shoes. The air is chilly. They must be cold in their shirts and pants, their feet on the hard ground.

What was the reason for their expulsion? The Saudi authorities said that these were migrants who came into the country without papers. They had crossed the dangerous Gulf of Aden in rickety boats. Saudi Arabia welcomes these migrants, even those without documents, largely because they – under duress – offer their services at very low rates of pay. At punctual intervals, the Saudi government goes after these undocumented workers, arresting them in public, throwing them in deportation camps in Riyadh and then shipping them home.

That was in 2013. Between June of 2017 and the end of the year the Saudi authorities detained 250,000 foreigners and sent home 96,000 Ethiopians. When the Saudi government feels particularly vicious, it carts the Ethiopians to the Saudi-Yemen border and merely leaves them on the Yemeni side. Yemen, still bombed almost daily by Saudi Arabia, is hardly the place to welcome desperate Ethiopians.

The periodic cycle of allowing undocumented workers into the country and then humiliating them by this kind of public ejection maintains the workers in fear and allows the human traffickers and the employers to keep wages as low as possible. There is no one to complain to.

Why do the Ethiopians keep returning to Saudi Arabia? Ethiopia is a country in dire economic distress. Six to nine million Ethiopians have needed food aid of one kind or another last year, as severe drought and poverty have combined to create a near famine situation. Southeastern Ethiopia, from where many of the migrant workers come, has seen the drought destroy livestock herds and reduce crop production.

Bangladeshi migrant worker Abul Hossain says it is against the law to be working at night in construction sites in Malaysia, but it is common practice and expected of the workers. Abul works in a construction site in Ampang in Kuala Lumpur. Photo: Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

Bangladeshi migrant worker Abul Hossain says it is against the law to be working at night in construction sites in Malaysia, but it is common practice and expected of the workers. Abul works in a construction site in Ampang in Kuala Lumpur. Photo: Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

It is in this same area that Ethiopia hosts 894,000 refugees from Eritrea, Somalia, South Sudan and Sudan. Those refugees come for reasons of hunger and conflict. Last year alone, 106,000 refugees entered Ethiopia, most of them from South Sudan (whose citizens now number 420,000 in Ethiopia). A country that hosts almost a million refugees – itself wracked by distress – sends perhaps a million to the Arabian Peninsula (there are half a million in Saudi Arabia itself). It is a cycle of refugees that now defines the planet.

I can’t get the lack of shoes out of my mind. Ethiopian workers say that they are mistreated routinely in Saudi Arabia – sexual violence against domestic workers, beatings of all workers, harassment by the police. This has become normal. It is the way we live now.

Dhaka, Bangladesh, 2018.

While in Dhaka, I visited the Drik Gallery III, where I saw the exhibition of photographs taken by Shahidul Alam of Bangladeshi migrants to Malaysia. The pictures are vivid illustrations of the hope in the eyes of the migrants and the great sense of disappointment, as life does not turn out as it was promised for most of them. Alam’s photography shines – his own personal compassion draws out emotions of great sincerity from the men and women he photographs.

Alam gave me his book – The Best Years of My Life – which collects the pictures that I saw in the gallery, with a moving text that he wrote to accompany his photographs. The book traces the journey of Bangladeshi migrants – chasing a dream – to Malaysia’s factories and fields, where they work for low wages, get cheated by traffickers, by officials and by their peers. The lure of savings to help their families at home leads the workers to sacrifice their own lives. Sahanaz Parben’s son (age 11) calls her aunty; he barely knows her. Babu Biswas’s children have seen him briefly three times over the past decade. “They are doing well,” he says.

The legal status of these migrants is often unclear. It is precisely their tenuous legal status that forces them to bid down the rate of wages. But the money of the ‘illegal’ migrant is not illegal. It is welcomed into Bangladesh. There are roughly 9 million Bangladeshi migrants (according to the World Bank). They send home 15 billion dollars. Based on a five-year average, this amounts to 10% of Bangladesh’s Gross Domestic Product.

This is not as high a percentage as that of Liberia, where more than a quarter of its GDP comes from remittances from migrant workers. These economies would crumble without the small amounts of money from millions of workers that adds up to large amounts of foreign exchange for these countries. It is worth noting that Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) into Bangladesh is merely 0.9% of its GDP. The remittance of migrant workers is of far greater economic value than the FDI from foreign banks and corporations.

And yet, as Alam finds, the government of Bangladesh is cavalier towards the migrant. The High Commissioner Mohammed Hafiz seems a nice enough man. But he has essentially given up on his duties. “What can I do?” he asks.

The activists have it correctly. Parimala Narayanasamy of Coordination of Action Research on AID and Mobility (CARAM) tells Alam that “sending governments should come out strong to say that if any country needed workers, then they – the sending countries – should set the terms and conditions.” This is exactly what is not done, neither by the governments of Bangladesh nor of Ethiopia.

They treat the foreign bankers and corporate executives like heroes. They treat their own nationals that send in far greater amounts of money like criminals.

At Shahjalal International Airport in Dhaka, I charge my phone. Two men come and ask to use my charger. They are off to the Gulf. I don’t have a charger that fits their phone. A woman comes to me, hands me her boarding pass and asks me when her flight gets into Abu Dhabi. She is to be picked up by her employer. The boarding pass does not have the time of arrival. She looks in her bag for her ticket. There is so little there. One of the men asks her if she has a charger. She does not. They smile at each other. They have so much in common. They will find a way to help each other. It is the way of these workers. They have themselves and their families. Everyone sees them as an inconvenience.

The post Migrants Without Shoes appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/migrants-without-shoes/feed/ 2
Left Behind: Families of Migrants Wait in Limbohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/left-behind-families-migrants-wait-limbo/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=left-behind-families-migrants-wait-limbo http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/left-behind-families-migrants-wait-limbo/#respond Sat, 20 Jan 2018 12:48:50 +0000 Rafiqul Islam Sarker http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153958 Wahid Haider talks about his son’s departure to Italy almost seven years ago without regret or hesitation. Haider has not seen Nayeem, now 30 years old, since he left Nankar in search of better economic prospects, travelling through Romania, where he spent several months, before entering Italy. Wahid, a former chair of a Union Parishad […]

The post Left Behind: Families of Migrants Wait in Limbo appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
A grocery in Nankar, northern Bangladesh. Credit: Rafiqul Islam Sarker/IPS

A grocery in Nankar, northern Bangladesh. Credit: Rafiqul Islam Sarker/IPS

By Rafiqul Islam Sarker
NANKAR, Bangladesh, Jan 20 2018 (IPS)

Wahid Haider talks about his son’s departure to Italy almost seven years ago without regret or hesitation. Haider has not seen Nayeem, now 30 years old, since he left Nankar in search of better economic prospects, travelling through Romania, where he spent several months, before entering Italy.

Wahid, a former chair of a Union Parishad (Union Council) and an influential person in the community, told IPS in Mithapukur how in 2008, the army-led caretaker government demolished his son’s shop in Nankar village, along with many other shops, in a drive to push out unauthorized commercial businesses.

Nankar has a population of about 3,000 people, most of them dependent on agriculture. It is in Mithapukur Upazilla (sub-district), south of Rangpur, a northern city some 300 km from the capital of Dhaka, Bangladesh where in the commercial section of the sub-district, prices are as high as 600,000 dollars for one acre of land.

Having lost his source of income after the shop was demolished, Nayeem contacted his cousin Ahmed Mustafa in Venice, Italy who had been living there for many years. Nayeem was impressed that Ahmed earned about 1,500 Euro per month as a street vendor and decided to try his luck entering Italy. With help from Ahmed, who managed to sponsor an Italian visa for him on training in electronics, Nayeem made his way to Italy, making an initial stop in Romania.

To organize this visa and Nayeem’s air ticket, Ahmed charged approximately 15,000 dollars, which was paid by Nayeem’s father-in-law. Nayeem was barely 20 when he married Zulekha and had two children. Zulekha’s father was not cash-rich but owned some land that he agreed to sell at the urging of his daughter, his only child, to finance Nayeem’s voyage to Italy.

Nayeem left Nankar some seven years ago. His children are now 10 and 7 years old and they, along with their mother Zulekha, have not seen Nayeem since. But with the money Nayeem sends home through a local bank, Zulekha lives in a rented house in Nankar. In the meantime, Nayeem has been working as a street vendor selling trinkets in Venice. In the summers, he shifts to the beaches for the lucrative tourist season.

He has a legal visa to stay, which requires renewal every six months. But under his current status, he cannot leave Italy to see his wife, children and parents in Bangladesh as he won’t be able to enter Italy again.

Nayeem’s father Wahid says, “That’s not a problem at all. She is a good girl and she can wait a few more years for her husband.”

Zulekha might feel differently, but IPS was not able to reach her to seek her views on what this means for her future – an absentee husband with no assurance that he will be able to get permission to visit her and his children in the near future.

Wahid told IPS another story about Imran, a 34-year-old man from a neighbouring village who crossed the Mediterranean on a boat but died of fatigue and dehydration on arrival in Italy some two hand half years ago. His father Alim Uddin, 80, and mother Roushanara, 65, refuse to accept their son’s death.

IPS spoke to Alim Uddin and Roushanara at their home in Sathibari, an adjoining village of Nakar. “Can you tell me if Imran is well?” Alim Uddin asked.

According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), 199 people have already died this year attempting the dangerous Mediterranean crossing.

In 2017, IOM reported that 171,635 migrants and refugees entered Europe by sea, with just under 70 per cent arriving in Italy and the rest divided between Greece, Cyprus and Spain. IOM’s Missing Migrants Project (MMP) reported a total of 3,116 deaths in the Mediterranean last year.

Imran was the second of seven siblings – three brothers and four sisters. Agriculture was his family’s sole livelihood. He used to support his father by cultivating crops like rice, maize and potatoes on two acres of their ancestral land in the village. But the income wasn’t enough to support the family, consisting of eleven people including Imran’s wife and daughter.

In the hope of earning more money, Imran flew to Libya with a valid visa in 2007. As an unskilled labourer, he was earning about 200 dollars a month. He worked with a construction company in Tripoli for five years and saved 2,500 dollars over that period.

But Imran lost his job soon after the civil war erupted in Libya and he faced a tough situation to stay in Tripoli.

“Meanwhile, many of Imran’s colleagues left Libya for Italy by crossing the Mediterranean,” Imran’s widow Roksana told IPS.

Akbar Ali, a man from Sylhet, an eastern district of Bangladesh who lived in Libya, offered Imran a trip by sea to Italy at a cost of 1,000 dollars, said Roksana. He agreed and set out by boat in 2012 along with 400 other people from Asian and African countries.

A few days later, “I received a phone call from an unknown telephone number and someone at the other end informed me that Imran had died of fatigue and dehydration on arrival at the Italian port,” Roksana said. “He never came home, not even his dead body that we could see and bury.”

Imran and Roksana had been married for only one year before he went to Libya. She gave birth to a girl the same year he left. They named her Rebeka Begum. She is now ten years old. Rebeka doesn’t know what her father looked like.

Although a widow, Roksana did not leave her father-in-law’s house after Imran died. She said, “I could have remarried but did not do so because of my little daughter. Fortunately, my in-laws are good people. Their granddaughter is a solace for them now that their son is gone forever.”

Roksana ekes out a living laboring in the fields at Sathibari.

“I’ve no alternative to hard work in the field,” she said. She choked up when she told IPS about another relative from Nankar who after spending four days at sea, was detained by the Italian Coast Guard and was eventually moved to a camp. Later, he was able to get all his papers in order and was granted a permit to stay. He is now visiting his family near Mithapukur and making arrangements to take his wife to Italy.

The post Left Behind: Families of Migrants Wait in Limbo appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/left-behind-families-migrants-wait-limbo/feed/ 0
Fate of the Rohingyas – Part Twohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/fate-rohingyas-part-two/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fate-rohingyas-part-two http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/fate-rohingyas-part-two/#respond Tue, 16 Jan 2018 00:01:45 +0000 Naimul Haq http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153883 With discussions underway between Bangladesh and Myanmar about the repatriation of more than a half a million Rohingya refugees, many critical questions remain, including how many people would be allowed back, who would monitor their safety, and whether the refugees even want to return to violence-scorched Rakhine state. A Joint Working Group (JWG) consisting of […]

The post Fate of the Rohingyas – Part Two appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
Rohingya refugees carry blankets at a camp in Bangladesh. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

Rohingya refugees carry blankets at a camp in Bangladesh. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

By Naimul Haq
DHAKA, Bangladesh, Jan 16 2018 (IPS)

With discussions underway between Bangladesh and Myanmar about the repatriation of more than a half a million Rohingya refugees, many critical questions remain, including how many people would be allowed back, who would monitor their safety, and whether the refugees even want to return to violence-scorched Rakhine state.

A Joint Working Group (JWG) consisting of government representatives from Myanmar and Bangladesh was formed on Dec. 19 and tasked with developing a specific instrument on the physical arrangement for the repatriation of returnees."Three elements of safety – physical, legal and material – must be met to ensure that return is voluntary and sustainable." --Caroline Gluck of UNHCR

A high-ranking Bangladeshi foreign ministry official who requested anonymity told IPS, “The Myanmar government has been repeatedly requested to allow access to press and international organisations so they can see the situation on the ground. Unless the world is convinced on the security issues, how can we expect that the traumatized people would volunteer to settle back in their homes where they suffered being beaten, tortured and shot at?”

He says, “The crimes committed by the Myanmar regime are unpardonable and they continue to be disrespectful to the global community demanding access for investigation of alleged genocide by the regime and the dominant Buddhist community.

“The parties who signed the deal need to consider meaningful and effective and peaceful refugee protection. In Myanmar, as a result of widespread human rights abuses, hundreds of thousands of people have fled the country and are living as refugees in camps or settlements also in Thailand and India. The same approach of reconciliation and effective intervention by the international community must be in place.”

A human right activist pointed out that the very people who are to return to Myanmar have no say in the agreement. Their voices are not reflected in the agreement which does not clearly outline how and when would the Rohingyas return home.

Asked about the future of the Rohingyas, Fiona Macgregor, International Organisation for Migration (IOM) spokesperson in Cox’s Bazar, told IPS, “Formal talks on repatriation have been held bilaterally between the governments of Bangladesh and Myanmar and IOM has not been involved in these.”

“According to IOM principles it is crucial that any such return must be voluntary, safe, sustainable and dignified. At present Rohingya people are still arriving from Myanmar every day who are in desperate need of humanitarian assistance. IOM continues to focus efforts on supporting the needs of these new arrivals, as well as those who have arrived since August 25, those who were living here prior to August and the local host community in Cox’s Bazar.”

Recently, top brass in the Myanmar regime said that it was “impossible to accept the number of persons proposed by Bangladesh” for return to Myanmar.

The deal outlines that Myanmar identify the refugees as “displaced residents.” Repatriation will require Myanmar-issued proof of residency, and Myanmar can refuse to repatriate anyone. Those who return would be settled in temporary locations and their movements will be restricted. In addition, only Rohingyas who fled to Bangladesh after October 2016 will be repatriated.

According to official sources, a meeting of the Joint Working Group supervising the repatriation will be held on January 15 in Myanmar’s capital to determine the field arrangement and logistics for repatriation with a fixed date to start repatriation.

As of January 7, a total of 655,500 Rohingya refugees had arrived in Cox’s Bazar after a spurt of violence against the minority Muslim Rohingya people beginning in August 2016, which left thousands dead, missing and wounded.

Caroline Gluck, Senior Public Information Officer at UNHCR Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, told IPS that the agency is currently appealing for 83.7 million dollars until the end of February 2018 to fund humanitarian operations.

In March, the UN and its partners will launch a Joint Response Plan, setting out funding needs to assist Rohingya refugees and host communities for the 10-month period to the end of the year.

Regarding the repatriation process, Gluck said, “Many refugees who fled to Bangladesh have suffered severe violence and trauma. Some have lost their loved ones and their homes have been destroyed. Any decision to return to Myanmar must be based on an informed and voluntary choice. Three elements of safety – physical, legal and material – must be met to ensure that return is voluntary and sustainable.

“While UNHCR was not party to the bilateral arrangement between Myanmar and Bangladesh, we are ready to engage with the Joint Working Group and play a constructive role in implementing the modalities of the arrangement in line with international standards.”

She added that UNHCR is ready to provide technical support to both governments, including registering the refugees in Bangladesh and to help determine the voluntary nature of their decision to return.

“As the UN Secretary-General has noted, restoring peace and stability, ensuring full humanitarian access and addressing the root causes of displacement are important pre-conditions to ensuring that returns are aligned with international standards.

“Equally important is the need to ensure that the refugees receive accurate information on the situation in areas of potential return, to achieve progress on documentation, and to ensure freedom of movement. It is critical that the returns are not rushed or premature, without the informed consent of refugees or the basic elements of lasting solutions in place.”

Gluck noted that while the numbers of refugees have significantly decreased, their needs remain urgent – for food, water, shelter and health care, as well as protection services and psychosocial help.

“The areas where the refugees are staying are extremely densely populated.  There is the risk of infectious disease outbreaks and fire hazards,” she said. “And, with the rainy season and monsoon rains approaching, we are very concerned at how this population, living in precarious circumstances, will be affected. UNHCR it working with partners to prepare for and minimize these risks.”

She said UNHCR has already provided upgraded shelter kits for 30,000 families; and will expand distributions for around 50,000 more this year. The kits include bamboo pieces and plastic tarpaulin, which will allow families to build stronger sturdier, waterproof shelters, better able to withstand heavy rains and winds.

The post Fate of the Rohingyas – Part Two appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/fate-rohingyas-part-two/feed/ 0
Fate of the Rohingyas – Part Onehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/fate-rohingyas-part-one/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fate-rohingyas-part-one http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/fate-rohingyas-part-one/#respond Sun, 14 Jan 2018 12:11:41 +0000 Naimul Haq http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153857 The repatriation of Rohingya refugees driven from their villages through violence and terror appears uncertain, with critics saying the agreement legalising the process of their return is both controversial and impractical. Shireen Huq, a leading women’s rights activist and founder of Naripokkho, one of the oldest women’s rights organisations here, told IPS, “In my view […]

The post Fate of the Rohingyas – Part One appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh wait in limbo. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh wait in limbo. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

By Naimul Haq
DHAKA, Bangladesh, Jan 14 2018 (IPS)

The repatriation of Rohingya refugees driven from their villages through violence and terror appears uncertain, with critics saying the agreement legalising the process of their return is both controversial and impractical.

Shireen Huq, a leading women’s rights activist and founder of Naripokkho, one of the oldest women’s rights organisations here, told IPS, “In my view Bangladesh should not have rushed into the bilateral ‘arrangement’ and especially without the involvement of the United Nations or consulting the refugees themselves."It is the same old story. They would move from a camp in Bangladesh to a camp in Myanmar." --Shireen Huq

“Bangladesh should have engaged in a diplomatic tsunami to gain the support of its neighbours and in particular to win the support of China and Russia. The international community has to step up its pressure on Myanmar to stop the killings, the persecution and the discrimination.”

The uncertainty deepened with Myanmar regime still refusing to recognize the refugees as their citizens, throwing the possibility of any peaceful return into doubt.

UNHCR estimates there have been 655,000 new arrivals in Bangladesh since Aug. 25, 2017, bringing the total number of refugees to 954,500.

Bangladesh and Myanmar signed a memorandum of understanding on Nov. 23, 2017 on the repatriation of Rohingya people who fled their ancestral home in Rakhine state in the wake of military assaults on their villages.

But Huq notes that a similar 1993 bilateral agreement to repatriate Rohingya refugees who had fled to Bangladesh was not very successful as the voluntary repatriation was opposed by the majority of the refugees.

She describes Bangladesh government’s generosity and the subsequent responsibilities as a ‘job well done’ but she fell short of praising the deal, saying, “This is going to be a repeat of the 1993 agreement where involving only bilateral efforts clearly showed that it does not work.”

“They [Rohingyas] are going to be here for a long time,” Huq predicted. “If we understand correctly, the Rohingyas will not be allowed to return to their previous abode, their own villages, but moved to new settlements. In that case, it is the same old story. They would move from a camp in Bangladesh to a camp in Myanmar. It will be another humanitarian disaster.”

She continued, “If this arrangement is implemented as it is, it will be like another ‘push back’ of the refugees by Bangladesh, unless the international community oversees the repatriation and can guarantee their safe and peaceful settlement and rehabilitation.”

While the deal has been welcomed by the international community, including the US, the European Union and the United Nations, others urged the government to involve a third party to ensure a sustainable solution to the crisis.

They say that Bangladesh has little experience in managing an international repatriation process and unless it fulfills the international repatriation and rehabilitation principles, the agreed terms may not be strong enough to create a lasting solution.

Muhammad Zamir, a veteran diplomat, told IPS that the world should not leave Bangladesh to shoulder the complex problem alone.

“It is unfair to burden Bangladesh with such a huge task that requires multiple factors to be considered before initiating the process of repatriation. The foremost issue is ensuring security or protection of the refuges once they return.”

Zamir, who just returned from a visit to the Rohingya camps in Cox’s Bazar, says, “The situation in the camps is already a humanitarian disaster and it is getting worse by the day. These people [Rohingya] are already traumatized and confused. They have suffered enough with the ordeals they have gone through. There is no guarantee that with the nightmares still fresh in their minds they would want to return so early unless there are strong and serious efforts to guarantee their protection in the long run.”

A Joint Working Group (JWG) consisting of government representatives from Myanmar and Bangladesh was formed on Dec. 19 and tasked with developing a specific instrument on the physical arrangement for the repatriation of returnees. The first meeting of the JWG is due to take place on Jan. 15, 2018.

Former army general M Sakhawat Husain, a noted columnist and national security and political analyst, told IPS, “The Rohyngas’ legitimate and minimum demand to be recognised as citizens of their native land is completely ignored in the agreement. In the face of continuous persecution still going on, as widely reported, how can voluntary repatriation take place?”

“The most damaging clause seems to be agreeing on the terms of Myanmar that is scrutiny of papers or authenticity of their being residence of Rakhaine,” he added.

“Most of these people fled under sub-humane and grotesque torture. It would be difficult for Bangladesh to send them back voluntarily. The report suggests that unless a guarantee of security and minimum demand of citizenship not given these people may not go back.”

Former ambassador Muhammad Shafiullah said, “It is quite uncertain to execute such a huge repatriation process without involving the UN system although Myanmar has outright rejected involving the UN. In such a situation how can we expect a smooth repatriation process?”

Shafiullah expressed deep concern about the inadequate financial support for humanitarian aid to the Rohingya camps.

“The UN system so far could garner funds for six month. Another pledging meeting is expected before the fund is exhausted. Bangladesh cannot support such an overwhelming burden alone for a long time. Precisely for this reason Bangladesh signed the agreement for repatriation although the terms were not favorable to her.”

The post Fate of the Rohingyas – Part One appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/fate-rohingyas-part-one/feed/ 0
Marooned in Bangladesh, Rohingya Face Uncertain Futurehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/marooned-bangladesh-rohingya-face-uncertain-future/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=marooned-bangladesh-rohingya-face-uncertain-future http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/marooned-bangladesh-rohingya-face-uncertain-future/#respond Wed, 03 Jan 2018 23:30:48 +0000 Sohara Mehroze http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153729 In this special series of reports, IPS journalists travel to the border region between Bangladesh and Myanmar to speak with Rohingya refugees, humanitarian workers and officials about the still-unfolding human rights and health crises facing this long-marginalized and persecuted community.

The post Marooned in Bangladesh, Rohingya Face Uncertain Future appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
The post Marooned in Bangladesh, Rohingya Face Uncertain Future appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

In this special series of reports, IPS journalists travel to the border region between Bangladesh and Myanmar to speak with Rohingya refugees, humanitarian workers and officials about the still-unfolding human rights and health crises facing this long-marginalized and persecuted community.

The post Marooned in Bangladesh, Rohingya Face Uncertain Future appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/marooned-bangladesh-rohingya-face-uncertain-future/feed/ 0
Rohingyas: Lurching from Crisis to Crisishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/rohingyas-lurching-crisis-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rohingyas-lurching-crisis-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/rohingyas-lurching-crisis-crisis/#respond Sat, 16 Dec 2017 15:00:33 +0000 Farid Ahmed http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153586 In this special series of reports, IPS journalists travel to the border region between Bangladesh and Myanmar to speak with Rohingya refugees, humanitarian workers and officials about the still-unfolding human rights and health crises facing this long-marginalized and persecuted community.

The post Rohingyas: Lurching from Crisis to Crisis appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
Newly arrived Rohingya people wait at an army camp in Sabrang in Teknaf on Nov. 29, 2017 before being shifted to a camp in Cox's Bazar. Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

Newly arrived Rohingya people wait at an army camp in Sabrang in Teknaf on Nov. 29, 2017 before being shifted to a camp in Cox's Bazar. Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

By Farid Ahmed
COX'S BAZAR, Bangladesh, Dec 16 2017 (IPS)

Ferdous Begum was cleaning her child after he had defecated in the open, using leaves she collected from a nearby tree at Bangladesh’s Teknaf Nature Park. The settlement is packed with Rohingya refugees who fled military persecution in Myanmar since August.

“Access to water is terrible here,” Begum said. “We’ve only a couple of hand-dug shallow wells and we don’t get enough water from the wells for so many people living in the camp.”“Initially we received patients with bullet, burn and stab injuries. Now we’re getting more patients with waterborne and cold-related diseases and the number is increasing.” --Dr. Dipongkor Binod Sharma

Other camps near Teknaf are also facing acute shortages of water, especially access to drinking and clean water, while aid workers face difficulties with hygiene management for the refugees crammed in squalid camps stretching from Teknaf to Ukhia in Cox’s Bazar.

The latest UN report shows an estimated 655,000 Rohingya have crossed into Bangladesh after fleeing violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, increasing the total Rohingya population in Cox’s Bazar to 867,000 since Aug. 25.

The report said new arrivals were living in spontaneous settlements with increasing demand for humanitarian assistance, including shelter, food, clean water, and sanitation.

Ferdous Begum said her son was unwell last night, with a stomach upset. “Misfortune follows us anywhere we go,” Begum said.

Aid workers said refugees, especially pregnant women, lactating mothers and children were exposed to the risk of health hazards because of water shortages that led to poor hygiene management.

Diphtheria is rapidly spreading among Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned last week.

In one month, as of Dec. 12, a total of 804 suspected diphtheria cases, including 15 deaths, were reported among the displaced Rohingya population in Cox’s Bazar.

The first suspected case was reported on Nov. 10 by a clinic of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in Cox’s Bazar, according to the WHO.

A number of aid workers working in the field said hygiene was very important to prevent disease outbreaks in these overcrowded camps.

Many of the latrines made initially were already overflowing and faecal sludge was seen in the open in almost every camp. And many of the tubewells or hand-pumps are broken, shortening the supply of safe water.

Dr. Dipongkor Binod Sharma of Dhaka Community Hospital Trust, who has been working with Rohingya refugees since the latest influx began in August, said, “Initially we received maximum patients with bullet, burn and stab injuries. Now we’re getting more patients with waterborne and cold-related diseases and the number is increasing.”

Dr. Sharma said a large number of his patients were women and children suffering from acute malnutrition and anaemia, as most of the pregnant and lactating women were very young – many still in their teens.

“Hygiene is very crucial for them, but it seems they are not aware,” he said.

A Rohingya girl proudly holds up her drawing at a UNICEF school at Balukhali camp, Bangladesh. Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

A Rohingya girl proudly holds up her drawing at a UNICEF school at Balukhali camp, Bangladesh. Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

A Rohingya refugee named Gul Nahar rushed to a BRAC aid centre with her six-month-old boy, Mohammad Haras, seeking help. “He’s been suffering from high fever along with diarrhoea for the last 10 days,” Nahar said.

Nahar said the seven members of her family were living together in a single shanty room.

WaterAid Bangladesh country director Dr. Md Khairul Islam told IPS he was aware of water shortages in the camps in Teknaf. “The situation might be exacerbated when local farmers start irrigation for their crops in the area soon,” he added.

Executive director of the government’s Institute of Water Modelling, Professor M Monowar Hossain, told IPS there were plans to initiate a survey to ascertain the level of ground water there.

“It’s a part of the national survey… It’s not particularly for the Rohingya issue. [But] Until we do the survey, we can’t say there is any scarcity of water,” said Prof Hossain, a former dean of Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET).

Local people fear the presence of over half a million Rohingyas will put additional pressure on water sources and that would worsen the situation in the coming months.

They warned about a severe water crisis in the later part of winter, when the groundwater level naturally goes down.

Rohingyas in the Jadimora area said that they were trying to collect water from tubewells in local communities, but on many occasions they’d been barred.

In the absence of safe water, Rohingyas in makeshift camps in Damdamia Nature Park, Jadimora, Alikhali, and Unchiprang areas of Teknaf are collecting water from ponds, waterfalls and other untreated sources.

“Nobody is supplying drinking water for us. We collect water from a nearby pond,” said a Rohingya community leader in the Damdamia area, Rashid Ullah.

Many Rohingyas built makeshift shelters in forest preserves, felling trees and setting up shanties on hilly slopes. Other have taken refuge at overcrowded registered and unregistered camps.

The haphazard sprouting of camps makes it hard to supply safe drinking water to Rohingyas, aid workers said.

Department of Public Health Engineering officials said for the Rohingyas who took shelter in wild forests and hills, safe drinking water facilities like tube wells are nonexistent.

“We can’t say we have reached all Rohingyas with safe drinking water and other facilities as they are living scattered,” Refugee Relief and Repatriation commissioner Mohammad Abul Kalam of Cox’s Bazar told IPS.

“Particularly in Teknaf, we wanted to relocate those Rohingyas facing shortage of water to other camps, but they were not interested,” Kalam said.

Aid workers say the Rohingya influx has slowed down, but several hundred refugees still arrive every day, adding pressure on both the government and humanitarian relief groups.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) has constructed more than 3,800 latrines and 159 wells in six host community locations – Whykong, Palonkhali, Jaliapalong, Kutupalong, Rajapalong and Baharchora.

“Access to clean water and safe sanitation services is a problem for the communities hosting refugees in Cox’s Bazar,” said Alessandro Petrone, WASH Programme Manager for IOM’s Rohingya Response, in a statement earlier this month.

“A global and up to date WASH assessment providing a proper gaps analysis and an activities plan is urgently needed. IOM is developing a rated assessment tool and will deploy teams to the field in the coming days to support this work,” said Petrone.

The Inter-Sector Coordination Group (ISCG), of which IOM is a part, reported this week that the humanitarian situation for Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh remained dire.

The inter-agency Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP) for 2017-18 identified the areas of WASH, health, nutrition and food security and shelter for immediate scale-up to save lives in both settlements and host communities, it said.

As per the HRP, the Rohingya population in Cox’s Bazar is highly vulnerable, many having experienced severe trauma, and are now living in extremely difficult conditions.

The limited WASH facilities in the refugee established settlements, put in place by WASH sector partners, including UNICEF, prior to the current influx, are over-stretched, with an average of 100 people per latrine, the report said.

New arrivals also have limited access to bathing facilities, especially women, and urgently require WASH supplies including soap and buckets.

Given the current population density and poor sanitation and hygiene conditions, any outbreak of cholera or Acute Watery Diarrhoea (AWD), which are endemic in Bangladesh, could kill thousands of people residing in temporary settlements, the report warned.

he series of reports from the border areas of Myanmar and Bangladesh is supported by UNESCO’s International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC)

The post Rohingyas: Lurching from Crisis to Crisis appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

In this special series of reports, IPS journalists travel to the border region between Bangladesh and Myanmar to speak with Rohingya refugees, humanitarian workers and officials about the still-unfolding human rights and health crises facing this long-marginalized and persecuted community.

The post Rohingyas: Lurching from Crisis to Crisis appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/rohingyas-lurching-crisis-crisis/feed/ 0
Rohingya Refugees Endure Lingering Traumahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/rohingya-refugees-endure-lingering-trauma/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rohingya-refugees-endure-lingering-trauma http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/rohingya-refugees-endure-lingering-trauma/#comments Thu, 14 Dec 2017 14:24:19 +0000 Farid Ahmed http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153560 In this special series of reports, IPS journalists travel to the border region between Bangladesh and Myanmar to speak with Rohingya refugees, humanitarian workers and officials about the still-unfolding human rights and health crises facing this long-marginalized and persecuted community.

The post Rohingya Refugees Endure Lingering Trauma appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
Rubina (extreme left) along with her friend at the Islamic School at Kutupalong camp, home to Rohingya refugees from Myanmar. Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

Rubina (far left) along with her friend at the Islamic School at Kutupalong camp, home to Rohingya refugees from Myanmar. Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

By Farid Ahmed
COX'S BAZAR, Bangladesh, Dec 14 2017 (IPS)

Twelve-year-old Rubina still struggles with the horrors she witnessed in her homeland in Myanmar before fleeing to neighbouring Bangladesh three months ago.

Despite reaching the relative safety of a refugee camp at Kutupalong in Bangladesh’s southeast town of Cox’s Bazar – now home to nearly a million ethnic Rohingya people, mostly women and children, who fled military persecution in Myanmar – Rubina suffers from post-traumatic stress caused by the harrowing experiences back in her country.

Conservative estimates by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) state at least 6,700 of Rohingya deaths have been caused by violence, including at least 730 children under the age of five
“Barely a night passes without nightmares,” she told IPS at an Islamic school in the camp where she comes every day to learn the Quran.

“I’m fine as long as I’m with my friends, but sometimes I feel alone even amidst a crowd… I can’t forget anything that I have seen.”

Rubina was orphaned in the latest spate of violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine state. She fled to Bangladesh along with her grandparents and three siblings after her parents were hacked to death by local Buddhist people in the presence of the army.

Rubina is among thousands of others who endured similar ordeals.

Different NGOs and aid groups are now working in more than a dozen camps stretching from Teknaf to Ukhia in Cox’s Bazar. A 45-kilometre drive reveals settlement after settlement, with thousands of bamboo and tarpaulin shanties lining both sides of the hilly road.

Nur Mohammad, 12, witnessed soldiers killing his father. “My father, a fisherman, tried to escape by running away, but the military chased him and shot him to death,” said Mohammad, who was staying at his maternal grandparents’ house in Shahporir Dwip. Mohammad’s father was a Myanmar national and his mother was Bangladeshi.

“As soldiers chased my father, my mother and I ran for cover through a jungle… we ran and walked for several days until we reached Bangladesh,” he said. “Sometimes I wake up at night and I feel like soldiers are knocking on the door… In that moment, I forget I’m in Bangladesh.”

Twelve-year-old Rohingya boy Nur Mohammad holds up Myanmar currency in Shah Porir Dwip. Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

Twelve-year-old Rohingya boy Nur Mohammad holds up Myanmar currency in Shah Porir Dwip. Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

The latest figures by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) indicate that 647,000 Rohingyas have arrived in Bangladesh since the latest spate of violence in Rakhine that began in August. The Bangladesh government estimated 300,000 to 400,000 Rohingyas were already here before the current influx.

A Rohingya community leader, Dil Mohammad, now lives in a camp in the no-man’s-land between Bangladesh and Myanmar at Tambru of Naikhongchhari in Bangladesh’s Bandarban district. He told IPS that women and children were the worst victims of violence.

Dil Mohammad, who has a degree in psychology from Yangon University (1994), worries about the future of those children, and especially young women, who will carry emotional scars from their experiences.

Though the Myanmar military denies it, many rights groups and UN officials have confirmed deliberate and planned atrocities, including murders, gang rapes and arsons against the Rohingyas.

“In most cases, children saw the brutality and the wrath of military against the Rohingyas, but many women were also showing the signs of brutality as they were raped and abused by the military and others,” said a Rohingya man, Mohammad Faisal, at a settlement at Teknaf Nature Park and Wildlife Sanctuary.

Faisal’s teenage wife Hajera, who was expecting her second baby, said they were lucky to have escaped with other family members, and everybody was safe and alive.

“I saw a soldier killing a baby – just throwing it onto the ground. I can’t forget the scene. I have a one-year-old baby girl,” Hajera said. “It could be my daughter… I tried to erase it from my mind, but I can’t. When I close my eyes I see the military man killing the baby and hear the baby crying.”

In most cases, women were unable to share their experiences with others, she said. “They can’t tell people how they have been abused, so they will bear their trauma [in silence],” Hajera said.

A Rohingya couple, Mohammad Faisal and his wife Hajera, pose for a photo with their child at their camp at Teknaf Nature's Park, Bangladesh. Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

A Rohingya couple, Mohammad Faisal and his wife Hajera, pose for a photo with their child at their camp at Teknaf Nature’s Park, Bangladesh. Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

An aid worker at a centre of Save the Children, who asked not to be named, told IPS about the children she worked with. “They come here and spend the whole day making new friends and playing with them, but they need time to recover fully,” she said.

Professor Tasmeem Siddiqui of Dhaka University, the founder and chair of Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit in Dhaka, said, “Those who are coordinating there must build up leadership from the community, especially women’s leadership.”

“Trauma management is a big challenge after any genocide. People can’t easily forget what they have seen. It should be handled very carefully with the people who have expertise in those fields,” she told IPS, adding, “I don’t think there is a very systematic co-ordination among the groups working in the Rohingya settlements.”

As women and children were the primary victims, women and children from their community should be engaged, along with the experts, so that the victims can speak up without inhibition, she said.

For women, trauma and sexual assaults are not the only issues to be addressed. In this vast stretch of unprotected settlements, they face other risks, from hygiene, and sanitation to trafficking.

Rohingya people interviewed for this story didn’t fear the type of attacks they faced in Myanmar, but said there were still opportunists who would try to exploit the helplessness of the Rohingya women and children who were struggling to survive.

“Besides systematic aid work by groups with expertise, community participation is essential for the protection of women and children,” Professor Siddiqui stressed.

Bangladesh and Myanmar recently signed a deal regarding repatriation of Rohingya. Many see the step as a ray of hope, but others who have suffered from decades of poverty, underdevelopment and sectarian violence at home were more cynical.

Even 10-year-old Mohammad Arafat expressed doubts. “They killed my father in front of me. My mother and I escaped,” he said. “If we go back there, they will kill us.”

The series of reports from the border areas of Myanmar and Bangladesh is supported by UNESCO’s International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC)

 

The post Rohingya Refugees Endure Lingering Trauma appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

In this special series of reports, IPS journalists travel to the border region between Bangladesh and Myanmar to speak with Rohingya refugees, humanitarian workers and officials about the still-unfolding human rights and health crises facing this long-marginalized and persecuted community.

The post Rohingya Refugees Endure Lingering Trauma appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/rohingya-refugees-endure-lingering-trauma/feed/ 1
Rohingya Refugees: The Woes of Women (Part Two)http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/rohingya-refugees-woes-women-part-two/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rohingya-refugees-woes-women-part-two http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/rohingya-refugees-woes-women-part-two/#respond Fri, 08 Dec 2017 13:00:43 +0000 Sohara Mehroze Shachi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153404 In this special series of reports, IPS journalists travel to the border region between Bangladesh and Myanmar to speak with Rohingya refugees, humanitarian workers and officials about the still-unfolding human rights and health crises facing this long-marginalized and persecuted community.

The post Rohingya Refugees: The Woes of Women (Part Two) appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
A Rohingya woman and her child at a refugee camp in Bangladesh. Credit: Kamrul Hasan/IPS

A Rohingya woman and her child at a refugee camp in Bangladesh. Credit: Kamrul Hasan/IPS

By Sohara Mehroze Shachi
COX'S BAZAR, Bangladesh, Dec 8 2017 (IPS)

Under pouring rain, hundreds of young and expectant mothers stand in line. With her bare feet and the bottom of her dress covered in mud, Rashida is one of them, clutching her emaciated infant. She lost her husband on the treacherous trek from Myanmar to Bangladesh, and with nowhere to go and her resources exhausted, rain-drenched and standing in this long, muddy line for food and medicine for her child is her only hope.

Rohingya women line up for aid. Credit: Sohara Mehroze Shachi/IPS

Rohingya women line up for aid. Credit: Sohara Mehroze Shachi/IPS

Following the recent brutal campaign unleashed against the Rohingyas by the Myanmar military, over half a million refugees came to Bangladesh since August 2017, and more are arriving every day. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) estimates that there are nearly 150,000 newly arrived women of reproductive age (15-49 years), and according to the Inter Sector Coordination Group’s September 2017 Situation Report on the crisis, there are over 50,000 pregnant and breastfeeding mothers among the new arrivals in Bangladesh who require targeted food and medical assistance.

“We collaborate with some groups and help refugees living in the camp areas where there is a shortage of medical supplies,” said Andrew Day, who has been advocating for refugees for the past two years in Bangladesh. “They don’t have the means to see a doctor.”

While small scale interventions are being taken by development organizations to supplement hospitals, such the placement of 35 midwives trained by UNFPA in two camps, hospitals are underfunded, overcrowded and struggling to provide care to the burgeoning pregnant refugee population and thousands of newborns.

Newborn children in the Rohingya refugee camps. Credit: Umer Aiman Khan/IPS

Newborn children in the Rohingya refugee camps. Credit: Umer Aiman Khan/IPS

Early marriage and high birth rates are prevalent among the Rohingya community. According to a flash report on mixed movements in South Asia by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), a majority of the refugees were married young (at 16 or 17) and gave birth at an average age of 18.

In a Rapid Gender Analysis assessment conducted by Care in Balukhali Makeshift Camp at Cox’s Bazar, it was found that many female respondents between the ages of 13 and 20 years had children and others are currently pregnant.
The assessment uncovered that knowledge and practice of birth control was nonexistent or very limited among the Rohingya refugees, and religious sentiment was a strong factor contributing to the emphasis placed on pregnancy and the aversion to contraceptives.

“It (pregnancy) is God’s wish” said Jainul whose wife was expecting their sixth child. “God will help me feed the children,” he added. His wife echoed this belief.

According to locals, many Bangladeshis are donating money to the refugee camps as they believe helping fellow Muslims will earn them God’s blessings, and the resources are being used to set up Madrasahs – religious education schools. The imams of these madrasahs advise against contraception, so while the government and relief agencies such as the International Organization for Migration (IOM) are trying to provide birth control options and information on family planning, Rohingya women refuse to comply.

Girls taking religious education lessons at a Madrasah in the camps. Credit: Kamrul Hasan/IPS

Girls taking religious education lessons at a Madrasah in the camps. Credit: Kamrul Hasan/IPS

Dr. Lailufar Yasmin, a lecturer in International Relations at the University of Dhaka, who is conducting research in the refugee camps, said at first when she went into the camps, she saw a lot of elderly and middle-aged females, but there were very few young women.

“But when I asked them about their age, I found out they were in their twenties,” she said. Repeated childbirth coupled with the trauma they experienced in Myanmar had taken such a toll on them that they all looked decades older than their true age, she explained.

“Many Rohingyas married their daughters off very young so that the military won’t come and rape them because their bodies become less attractive after childbirth,” she said.

“It is a community decision, not the girl’s decision, but the girls have internalized it that they need to have a lot of children because they need to save their race which is being persecuted,” Dr. Yasmin explained, adding that this philosophy contributed to the Rohingyas having very large families.

With thousands of Rohingya children soon to be born in Bangladesh, the need for ramped up medical care is acute. However, an IRC/RI assessment in October 2017 found that nearly 50 percent of all pregnant women have not received medical care and 41 percent of families with pregnant women do not know where to go for medical care for pregnant women. The report concludes, “These results point to a need for health messaging and services, as well as antenatal care and emergency obstetric care across the makeshift settlements.”

The series of reports from the border areas of Myanmar and Bangladesh is supported by UNESCO’s International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC)

The post Rohingya Refugees: The Woes of Women (Part Two) appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

In this special series of reports, IPS journalists travel to the border region between Bangladesh and Myanmar to speak with Rohingya refugees, humanitarian workers and officials about the still-unfolding human rights and health crises facing this long-marginalized and persecuted community.

The post Rohingya Refugees: The Woes of Women (Part Two) appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/rohingya-refugees-woes-women-part-two/feed/ 0
Rohingya Refugees: The Woes of Women – Part Onehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/rohingya-refugees-woes-women-part-one/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rohingya-refugees-woes-women-part-one http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/rohingya-refugees-woes-women-part-one/#respond Thu, 07 Dec 2017 13:58:48 +0000 Sohara Mehroze Shachi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153380 In this special series of reports, IPS journalists travel to the border region between Bangladesh and Myanmar to speak with Rohingya refugees, humanitarian workers and officials about the still-unfolding human rights and health crises facing this long-marginalized and persecuted community.

The post Rohingya Refugees: The Woes of Women – Part One appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
Rohingya women of Balukhali camp embarking on the trek to the toilets. Credit: Umer Aiman Khan/IPS

Rohingya women of Balukhali camp embarking on the trek to the toilets. Credit: Umer Aiman Khan/IPS

By Sohara Mehroze Shachi
COX'S BAZAR, Bangladesh, Dec 7 2017 (IPS)

Afia* lines up her bucket every morning in the refugee camp for water delivery from humanitarian relief workers. On one particularly sweltering day, she kept four water pitchers in a row with gaps between them, hoping to insert another empty container in the space when the water arrived.

When another refugee saw this, she kicked away Afia’s pitchers, and a raging quarrel broke out. That night, the woman’s local boyfriend attacked Afia in her house, kicking her in the belly and hitting her mercilessly with a chair. Afia kept mum about the incident as her assailant threatened to kidnap and rape her in the jungle if she sought arbitration.

Afia is not one of the half a million Rohingyas who came into Bangladesh since this August from Myanmar. She is one of the thousands who have been living in the camps for years, and the water crisis has been exacerbated by the latest influx of refugees.

In the camps, men usually collect relief and water, with women going only when there are no males available. Since her husband left for Malaysia three years ago in search of work, she has not received any news from him and lives on her own in the camp, where scarcity of water is a heated issue and results in frequent altercations between the resident refugees.

While tubewells exist in the camps, many of them are dysfunctional as they are either too shallow and can no longer pump water, or have broken handles so no one can use them.

A dysfunctional tubewell in Kutupalong refugee camp in Bangladesh. Credit: Sohara Mehroze Shachi/IPS

A dysfunctional tubewell in Kutupalong refugee camp in Bangladesh. Credit: Sohara Mehroze Shachi/IPS

Toilets

Women’s tribulations in the refugee camps do not end with water. Access to toilets is also a major problem. And the speed and scale of the recent influx – 624,000 arrivals since August and counting – have put basic services that were available in the camps prior to the influx are under severe strain. Spontaneous settlements have also sprung up to accommodate the new arrivals and these lack many basic amenities.

“There are no separate latrines for the women; the ones that exist do not have any lighting, are not close to their shelters and there’s absolutely no privacy,” said Shouvik Das, External Relations Officer of The UN Refugee Agency UNHCR in Bangladesh. “When we go to distribute food, sometimes the female refugees don’t want to take it because they then will need to go to the toilets and they dread that,” he added.

While many foreign and local NGOs and relief workers had set up tube wells and latrines for the refugees living in the camps, a safe distance was often not maintained between the latrines and the tubewells.

“Recently, the World Health Organization (WHO) found that over 60 per cent of water sources tested in the settlements were contaminated with E.coli. Much of the contamination is a result of shallow wells located less than 30 feet away from latrines,” said Olivia Headon, Information Officer for Emergencies with the International Organization for Migration (IOM), which is providing vital WASH services to both the Rohingya and the communities hosting them.

“While IOM supports private WASH and sanitation areas to provide privacy and safety to women in the Bangladeshi community, similar areas are under development in the Rohingya settlements but are hindered by the lack of space,” she explained.

Cotton used for menstruation dried on roofs of shacks in Kutupalong Camp. Credit: Umer AIman Khan/IPS

Cotton used for menstruation dried on roofs of shacks in Kutupalong Camp. Credit: Umer AIman Khan/IPS

Risks of disease outbreak

Labeled as the world’s most persecuted minority by the UN, the Rohingya lacked access to many basic rights in Myanmar, including healthcare. A large number of the new surge of refugees had been suffering from various diseases before their arrival, including Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C and Polio, and are now staying in cramped camps.

Their squalid living conditions, combined with scarcity of safe water and sanitation facilities, have triggered fears among health experts of disease outbreaks. And women, with their limited mobility and resources, are particularly at risk.

“Women will have to bear a disproportionate risk of the public health burden, and will be at the receiving end of all the negative environmental fallouts,” says Sudipto Mukerjee, Country Director of United Nations Development Program, Bangladesh.

The female refugees suffer the worst during their menstrual cycles, with most of them reusing unsanitary rags or cotton for months. This is not only increasing their risks of infection and skin diseases, but also affecting their mobility. As a recently published report by the UN Refugee Agency UNHCR reads, “Women and girls are limiting their movement because of not only the fear of being harassed, kidnapped or trafficked but also because of their lack of appropriate clothing and sanitary napkins.”

However, while development organizations have been supplying sanitary products to the refugee women, many of them do not know how to use them because they have never had access to them.

“Some of them put the sanitary pads as masks on their faces because they simply didn’t know what to do with them,” said Dr. Lailufar Yasmin, Professor of Gender Studies at BRAC University who has been working with the refugees in the camps.

“If the people who you are working with do not know what to do with the help you are providing, it will not be effective,” she added, “You will only be wasting money.”

*Names have been changed to protect the refugees’ identities.

The series of reports from the border areas of Myanmar and Bangladesh is supported by UNESCO’s International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC)

The post Rohingya Refugees: The Woes of Women – Part One appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

In this special series of reports, IPS journalists travel to the border region between Bangladesh and Myanmar to speak with Rohingya refugees, humanitarian workers and officials about the still-unfolding human rights and health crises facing this long-marginalized and persecuted community.

The post Rohingya Refugees: The Woes of Women – Part One appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/rohingya-refugees-woes-women-part-one/feed/ 0
Rohingya Exodus Is a “Major Global Humanitarian Emergency”http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/rohingya-exodus-major-global-humanitarian-emergency/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rohingya-exodus-major-global-humanitarian-emergency http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/rohingya-exodus-major-global-humanitarian-emergency/#comments Tue, 05 Dec 2017 23:33:33 +0000 Naimul Haq http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153339 IPS Correspondent Naimul Haq interviews WILLIAM LACY SWING, Director General of the International Organization for Migration (IOM)

The post Rohingya Exodus Is a “Major Global Humanitarian Emergency” appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
IOM Director General William Lacy Swing (right) visits Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh. Photo courtesy of IOM

IOM Director General William Lacy Swing (right) visits Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh. Photo courtesy of IOM

By Naimul Haq
DHAKA, Bangladesh, Dec 5 2017 (IPS)

In less than four months, over 600,000 Rohingya refugees have fled brutal persecution in Myanmar to seek safety across the border in Bangladesh. They are now crowded into camps across a stretch of 30 kms in Cox’s Bazar, a southeastern coastal region of the small South Asian nation.

The UN migration agency, International Organisation for Migration (IOM), has appealed to the international community for urgent funds. Over 344 million dollars was pledged recently at an international meeting to ramp up the delivery of critical humanitarian assistance. IOM stressed that the international community must work together to help to bring about a political resolution to the Rohingya crisis.We all need to work to create the conditions that will allow the refugees to eventually return voluntarily to Myanmar in safety and dignity.

IOM, at the request of the government of Bangladesh, has been leading the Inter Sector Coordination Group (ISCG), which is coordinating the humanitarian response to the influx of Rohingya refugees.

This appeal outlines IOM’s funding requirement from September 2017 to February 2018 as a part of the wider UN Humanitarian Response Plan.

William Lacy Swing, IOM’s Director General, told IPS Correspondent Naimul Haq that any durable solution must be a political one agreed between Bangladesh and Myanmar and supported by the international community.

Swing said that all stakeholders need to work to create the conditions that will allow the Rohingya refugees to eventually return voluntarily to Myanmar in safety and dignity.

He praised the Bangladesh government’s mobilization of its own resources, as well as the local community’s support to help the refugees. Swing went on a four-day visit in mid- October to several camps in Cox’s Bazar.

Following are the excerpts from the interview.

Q. During your visit to various camps, you witnessed the horror, heard the victims and saw the difficult situation prevailing in the camps. How do you compare the Rohingya exodus with the recent similar refugee crisis like in Syria?

A. The Rohingya refugee crisis, although much smaller than the exodus of five million people from Syria since 2011, is equally severe in many ways. It has unfolded at extraordinary speed with over 600,000 people arriving in a single, relatively small district – Cox’s Bazar – since August 25th. By contrast the Syrian civil war has resulted in Syria’s neighbors, notably Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, and Iraq, all hosting large numbers of Syrian refugees. But the speed, scale and complexity of what is now happening in Cox’s Bazar has created a major global humanitarian emergency. The needs on the ground for shelter, food, clean water, sanitation and healthcare are enormous. When this happened, none of us – neither humanitarian agencies nor the government of Bangladesh – were fully prepared to cope with an influx of this magnitude in such a short space of time.

Q. In a joint statement about relief for the Rohingyas, you said, “Much more is urgently needed. The efforts must be scaled up and expanded to receive and protect refugees and ensure they are provided with basic shelter and acceptable living conditions. They [Rohingyas] are fully dependent on humanitarian assistance for food, water, health and other essential needs. Basic services are under severe strain. In some sites, there is no access to potable water and sanitation facilities, raising health risks for both the refugees and the communities hosting them.” How do you plan to expand the distribution and what is the estimated cost of the additional relief?

A. IOM has been providing assistance to Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar, in partnership with the government, UN agencies, international and local NGOs, since September 2013. Now more international and local agencies are coming in to work with us in a well-coordinated effort to help an estimated 1.2 million people – including nearly 900,000 refugees and 300,000 people living in host communities already living since 1992.

But there are still gaps in the response and more resources are needed to ensure adequate, lifesaving assistance for everyone who needs it. Even now, three months after the start of the crisis, hundreds more people are still coming across the border from Myanmar every day. The Joint Response Plan, launched by the UN and partners in September, appealed for USD 434 million to support 1.2 million people through February 2018. Only USD 149.1 million has been received so far, of which IOM has received USD 52 million.

Q. The need [relief] assessment is taking place almost on a daily basis as the influx continues with more Rohingyas arriving in the camps for safety. It appears that the refugees would need to stay in Bangladesh for quite a while before a diplomatic solution is reached for their safe return. Having said this, a sustainable approach is needed on the ground. How do you or the international community, including the UN, plan to pursue both the governments [Bangladesh & Myanmar] to come to terms and find a peaceful return and settlement?

A. Any durable solution must be a political one agreed between Bangladesh and Myanmar and supported by the international community. We all need to work to create the conditions that will allow the refugees to eventually return voluntarily to Myanmar in safety and dignity. The agreement on return signed by the two countries last week is an important first step. But this is going to take time. As the UN Secretary-General has highlighted, UN agencies need to first resume their humanitarian work in Rakhine State, to promote reconciliation between the communities, and to help the government of Myanmar to implement the recommendations of the Rakhine Advisory Commission – the agreed roadmap to peaceful co-existence.

Q. During your visit you met with the Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina who was quoted as saying, “They [Rohingya] have to go back to their homeland, create international pressure on Myanmar so that they take steps to bring their citizens back.” We just had the UN General Assembly expressing concern for the Rohingya refugees while many heads of government have already sent messages to Myanmar to take back their citizens. The Bangladesh PM and the world leaders are expressing concerns in the same tone. What could be the role of IOM in finding a lasting solution and how?

A. The Prime Minister is correct in saying that there has to be a political solution supported by the international community. Much of this solution lies with Myanmar. IOM, as the UN Migration Agency, is a humanitarian agency and as such does not have the political weight of the UN Secretary General or the UN Security Council. But we can support the Secretary-General in advocating for dialogue between the parties in the hope that it will eventually allow the Rohingya to leave the terrible conditions in which they are living in Cox’s Bazar and return home safely to resume their lives.

Q. Do you have plans to visit Myanmar and meet the leaders there? If yes, what are you hoping to discuss and also see on the ground in Rakhine state where the Rohingyas are coming from?

A. I have no plans to visit Myanmar this year, but I look forward to returning next year to reaffirm IOM’s commitment to promoting peace and stability in Rakhine State, and, of course, to review the many other excellent projects that we implement in the rest of the country.

Q. A Critical Pledging Conference was held in Geneva on October 23, 2017 organized by OCHA, IOM and UNHCR and co-hosted by the European Union and Kuwait. Apart from pledges for international funds, what was the main message at the conference to the Rohingya crisis?

A. The conference was organized to provide governments from around the world an opportunity to show their solidarity and share the financial burden and responsibility for the Rohingya refugees. Over USD 344 million was pledged to urgently ramp up the delivery of critical humanitarian assistance. But countries represented at the conference also stressed that the international community must work together to help to bring about a political resolution of the Rohingya issue.

The post Rohingya Exodus Is a “Major Global Humanitarian Emergency” appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

IPS Correspondent Naimul Haq interviews WILLIAM LACY SWING, Director General of the International Organization for Migration (IOM)

The post Rohingya Exodus Is a “Major Global Humanitarian Emergency” appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/rohingya-exodus-major-global-humanitarian-emergency/feed/ 1
Rohingya Refugees Face Fresh Ordeal in Crowded Campshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/rohingya-refugees-face-fresh-ordeal-crowded-camps/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rohingya-refugees-face-fresh-ordeal-crowded-camps http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/rohingya-refugees-face-fresh-ordeal-crowded-camps/#respond Tue, 05 Dec 2017 12:09:45 +0000 Naimul Haq http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153322 In this special series of reports, IPS journalists travel to the border region between Bangladesh and Myanmar to speak with Rohingya refugees, humanitarian workers and officials about the still-unfolding human rights and health crises facing this long-marginalized and persecuted community.

The post Rohingya Refugees Face Fresh Ordeal in Crowded Camps appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
A group of Rohingya children emerge from a nearby religious school in Kutupalong camp. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

A group of Rohingya children emerge from a nearby religious school in Kutupalong camp. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

By Naimul Haq
COX'S BAZAR, Bangladesh, Dec 5 2017 (IPS)

Mariam Akhtar, 23, is desperately searching for her young daughter two weeks after arriving from Myanmar in Cox’s Bazar, a southeastern coastal district in Bangladesh.

Already traumatized by the extreme violence she and her family suffered in Buthidaung district in Myanmar, Mariam now faces fresh agony."There are agents looking for opportunities around the clock to lure and smuggle out the children." --Sarwar Chowdhury, Ukhia upazila chairman

“With God’s blessings I was able to reach this camp in Kutupalong alive. But where is my safety here when I have a child lost?” asks the mother of three small children.

Faria Islam Jeba*, a mother of four, also expressed fears when this correspondent approached a group of women in Kutupalong camp. It is the biggest of more than 30 refugee camps scattered across a 35 km stretch of land between Teknaf and Ukhia, two of the small towns in southern Cox’s Bazar where Rohingya refugees are still pouring in every day by the thousands from neighbouring Myanmar.

Jeba experienced rapes and beatings in Myanmar. She says her brothers were shot by Burmese security forces. But Bangladesh isn’t the safe haven she’d hoped for.

“I feel so scared, especially at night when it is dark all around. The hilly terrain and the meandering, muddy roads here make it hard to keep watch on my children when they go out.”

Mariam and Jeba are among many young single mothers who say they lost children inside the camps. The disappearances have been documented by the government and the aid agencies working in the crowded camps.

Over 1,000 children, mostly young girls under aged less than 18 years, have gone missing since the influx of refugees reached its height in late August. Many are believed to have been smuggled out to other parts of the country by human traffickers. Others might have been taken abroad.

Ali Hossain, Cox’s Bazar district commissioner who is supervising all activities in the camps under his command, told IPS, “In last three months we have punished 550 such alleged criminals who were caught red-handed while attempting to traffic children from the camps.”

“It is difficult policing [criminal activity] considering the sheer vastness of the camps. Many of the traffickers enter the camps in the guise of volunteer relief workers [and] they get easy access this way.”

To prevent fake relief workers from getting in, the administration recently introduced registration of all humanitarian organizations.

Still, the unaccompanied Rohingya children badly require protection in an organized manner. Only a fraction of the estimated 500,000 children attend religious schools (madrasas) instead of formal schools. Most are very vulnerable to trafficking as they have no guardians.

“What they [children] need is a ‘safe’ shelter, not just a physical bamboo shed shelter to live in. There are agents looking for opportunities around the clock to lure and smuggle out the children. So, basically they need caretakers and a mechanism to monitor their presence,” said Sarwar Chowdhury, Ukhia upazila chairman.

A Rohingya woman at Kutupalong camp in Bangladesh. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

A Rohingya woman at Kutupalong camp in Bangladesh. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

Rohingya refugees are very poor and have had no formal education. “I don’t know who to talk to about the pain in my abdomen,” says a woman named Rina in a soft, broken voice. She came from a village in Buthidaung.

The most common problems women cited were lack of security, privacy and leadership for the refugees. The overwhelming majority are women who have no organized voice in the camps.

Nilima Begum from Maundaw district in Myanmar says, “While in Myanmar we never had any healthcare. We don’t even know what is a hospital or school, as we were highly restricted from moving around even within our own community.”

Amran Mahzan, Executive Director of MERCY Malaysia, an international aid agency working in the camps since a long time, told IPS, “The most common complaint we get from the traumatized women is malnourishment, followed by pregnancy-related complications.”

“The number of pregnant women is very high, and they have poor knowledge of nutrition or pre or post-natal care. Our doctors are continuously providing advice to women on maternity care and safe delivery, but with language and cultural differences being barriers, the level is compliance remains to be seen.”

There are 18,000 pregnant women waiting to deliver and thousands more who may not yet have been identified and registered for healthcare.

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) is now at the forefront of addressing some of the challenges of emergency reproductive healthcare.

Dr Sathyanarayanan Doraiswamy, Chief of Health at UNFPA, Bangladesh, told IPS, “Our priority response has been to offer access to emergency obstetric and newborn care services, clinical response services for survivors of sexual violence, provide a basic package of prevention for HIV and sexually transmitted infections, safe blood transfusion and practice of universal precautions in health facilities.”

Megan Denise Smith, gender-based violence (GBV) Operations Officer for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Cox’s Bazar, told IPS, “Community outreach teams share essential information with women and girls regarding available services, whether this be medical, psychosocial or recreational activities to facilitate empowerment.”

She adds, “Mapping out specific areas where women and adolescent girls feel unsafe in talking to them directly will allow the community to then target these areas more effectively and establish a protective presence to prevent further risks.”

Mahmuda, Mental Health Programme Associate of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) told IPS, “The biggest challenge in dealing with the women is the need for stress management which I think should be the priority. It is now a question of survival and psycho-social counseling already given to over 3000 women in the past three months shows the positive impact.”

Mahmuda, a psychiatrist leading a small team in Kutupalong camp, says, “The women are emotionally numb. Atrocities for Rohingy refugees are nothing new, even the recent ones. They have been exposed to such violence for years and so they continue to suffer from such psychological distress.”

The camps are gradually setting up Child-Safe Spaces for children to play and learn, as well as dedicated services for women. Privacy is an issue in the cramped and overcrowded camps.

Separate examining rooms and private consultation spaces where women can relate their health problems to doctors are also in place, though more are needed.

Dignity and safety are key as many of the women are pregnant as a result of rape and cannot speak up for fear of being stigmatized by others. Many international agencies working in the camps are considering recruiting more female health care professionals.

The challenge is colossal, with over million refugees from Myanmar’s Rakhine State, dubbed the ‘fastest growing humanitarian refugee crisis in the world’.

So far, only 34 percent of the 434 million dollars pledged has been disbursed. One in four children is malnourished, and vaccination against communicable diseases and safe water are urgently needed.

*Names have been changed to protect the victims’ identities.

The series of reports from the border areas of Myanmar and Bangladesh are supported by UNESCO’s International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC)

The post Rohingya Refugees Face Fresh Ordeal in Crowded Camps appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

In this special series of reports, IPS journalists travel to the border region between Bangladesh and Myanmar to speak with Rohingya refugees, humanitarian workers and officials about the still-unfolding human rights and health crises facing this long-marginalized and persecuted community.

The post Rohingya Refugees Face Fresh Ordeal in Crowded Camps appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/rohingya-refugees-face-fresh-ordeal-crowded-camps/feed/ 0