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‘Aid inflow is slow and not yet enough for Rohingya refugees’

  • Published at 01:06 am September 27th, 2017
  • Last updated at 09:31 pm September 27th, 2017
‘Aid inflow is slow and not yet enough for Rohingya refugees’

How is IOM prioritising while distributing relief to a large number of refugees?

At present, all agencies are focusing on providing lifesaving support, from food to shelter, water and sanitation. IOM is helping to coordinate all the organisations that work in the district to ensure that each agency is filling a service gap. IOM’s own relief work is focused in providing the Rohingya with healthcare, water, sanitation and hygiene facilities, shelter materials and household items, and setting up new settlement sites. To ensure that services are reaching the right people, IOM has community outreach teams in place in the main settlement areas. The teams work with the local community leaders, our partner NGOs and other community-based teams. The local leaders keep track of the new arrivals together with the NGOs, and help us assess the most vulnerable cases which are then guided to one of our 12 distribution points for collecting relief items. We keep a record of those identified as vulnerable, so that we can recheck their needs and also avoid duplication.

Is the amount of relief items that is coming sufficient?

We are just starting to see the international community rising up, with some considerable contributions announced by several donor countries. However, the inflow is slow and not yet enough. We’re currently working with KSRelief and DFID to bring in relief materials and distribute them. Their arrival is crucial as local markets cannot provide all the needed materials. Our own chartered flights will come soon too. We’ve also asked most of our member states to provide assistance. There is a lot that needs to be addressed urgently - medical facilities require support, there are immediate needs for water infrastructure and latrines, shelter construction, household items, and protection support. As per the preliminary assessment plan, $77 million funding was required for 300,000 people until the end of the year. We are now estimating that the total caseload, including those who were here prior to the August 25 influx, will be closer to one million. So the requirement of financial assistance will certainly grow. We are also seeing strong response from Bangladesh government, and our teams in Cox’s Bazar are grateful to the local community members who have volunteered. After Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina advised all relevant ministries and agencies to work closely with the humanitarian community in reaching out to all refugees quickly, we saw various ministries scrambling and mobilising more medical workers to provide healthcare, the armed forces shuttling goods from Chittagong airport, and local administration providing meals to up to 100,000 people a day, amongst other things.

If aid services are discontinued, what kind of crisis can occur?

It is very unlikely that the relief work would be discontinued as long as there are obvious needs. With the international community, and humanitarian and development agencies gearing up as fast as they can, there has been good progress in the past week. There is also no reason for the efforts to stop amidst strong supports from the Bangladesh government and all agencies. However, it is possible that the nature of the assistance will change if the displacement continues for a long time.

Is IOM thinking about resettling the refugees in Rakhine? If yes, how?

Resettlement of the Rohingya is an issue that the governments of Bangladesh and Myanmar will have to decide upon mutually. The Kofi Annan commission has urged both countries to facilitate their voluntary return from Bangladesh through joint verification, in accordance with international standards and with assistance from international partners. IOM will be glad to assist both governments, if called for. At present, our focus, however, is to ensure the life saving support.

What initiatives IOM has taken for the refugees stranded in the no man’s land?

In the beginning of the influx, many people were stranded there for days with very little to survive under open sky. We had provided them with relief items at that time.

What are the dimensions of the humanitarian crisis in the camps and border?

The preliminary response plan estimated that 4.5 million litres of water per day and 15,000 latrines is required for 300,000 people. A total of $14 million was required to address this need. But now the need is much more with the influx number increased to 444,955 as of today [Monday]. In the sites, many are still living under open sky. The makeshift shelters are overcrowded. There is acute water crisis and very little sanitation, hygiene, and health facilities for this many people. The health facilities in Cox’s Bazar are also struggling to cope.

What are the main challenges the INGOs are facing in the refugee camps?

Currently, the three main challenges are - the size of the influx that has to be settled in camps which are often not accessible by road, lack of required workforce with the right skills to respond, and the torrential rain. Many of the new arrivals are dispersed in a huge area, which is hard to access and has no available services, between the Kutupalong and Balukhali makeshift settlements. There is no road and even the walkways are missing in some places. To ensure better services, roads need to be constructed urgently. To tackle the lack of workforce, everyone is recruiting but having the right people in place takes a while. Moreover, the majority of shelters in the low-lying areas surrounding Balukhali were flooded this week after heavy rain. Even the existing access roads got muddy and slippery, further slowing down aid distribution. WASH construction works were interrupted as materials couldn’t be carried over to the areas of the new extension sites due to the overflowing canals.

What is the greatest risk at this moment the refugees are facing?

Right now, given the unsanitary conditions in addition to limited supply of water, we are mostly concerned about a possible spread of communicable diseases, such as cholera. We are already planning for such worst-case scenario together with the government and specialised agencies such as World Health Organisation.
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