Humanitarian assistance alone is not enough
This week, I accompanied our president, Peter Maurer, who was the first ICRC president to visit Bangladesh. He came here after visiting Northern Rakhine, and some of the places where hundreds of thousands fled from violence last year.
We were in Cox’s Bazar together to see the ICRC’s operations, and to meet people from Myanmar and host communities whom we are also assisting with our services.
We have met people who are fearful about the fast-approaching rainy season that they know will flood their homes, washing away the bare minimum they live with.
Even today, people are still entering Bangladesh from the other side of the border.
We met one family who came just around the Eid time in June. They are still looking for shelter and are temporarily living in a school. Like thousands of others, their journey was not smooth either -- it took them 10 days to reach Bangladesh.
We also met other families who took temporary shelter in a school, as the rain has destroyed their plastic-and-bamboo makeshift houses. Schools remain closed for days now due to the monsoon. We have been providing regular food rations to them, but more needs to be done.
We met a lady in her 50s, awaiting news about her mother and brother who are still in Rakhine. Our colleagues from the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society are trying to trace them, but we could see the agony she was undergoing. There are many more desperate people in the camps, awaiting news of their beloved ones.
These are only a few snapshots of the daily ordeals of people living in and around the sprawling camps.
Efforts of all actors are being stretched, and resources are getting scarce. We can see that host communities in Cox’s Bazar, who opened their arms to welcome the displaced people despite having very little themselves, are overwhelmed as well.
Our microeconomic initiatives, launched last week, will support their income-generation activities and hopefully help them overcome their economic struggles.
Together with our president, we also met with the top leadership of the Bangladeshi authorities, including the honourable prime minister.
The generosity shown to these vulnerable people and communities by the authorities and people in Bangladesh over the past 10 months has undoubtedly been remarkable.
In all these meetings, we have reiterated our commitment that we will continue to play our part in responding to this humanitarian crisis.
Our president’s visit has also reinstated our main concern: People on both sides of the border need sustainable answers, and more than anything, they need hope for the future.
The situation cannot remain like this, and we all have a role to play. A durable solution needs to be found jointly for what looks like a lasting complex crisis.
According to the president, a complete lack and destruction of basic infrastructure, persisting inter-communal animosity, and still fragile political will are the visible reasons for his assessment that the conditions in Northern Rakhine are not yet conducive for the sustainable return of displaced communities.
In this environment, Peter Maurer stated that humanitarian assistance alone will not solve the problem.
A better future for the people here will need inclusive political solutions, environmentally sustainable economic investment, and a strong commitment to international humanitarian laws and human rights.
We have to be mindful that the conditions are simply not there in Rakhine for large numbers of people to return home.
As much as we appreciate authorities’ efforts, we also want to restate that any return to Rakhine should be voluntary, and people’s legitimate concerns should duly be addressed by the two countries.
Being among the first responders, our teams in Cox’s Bazar are working day in day out to bring a little comfort in people’s lives who have been suffering so much.
Peter Maurer’s maiden visit to Bangladesh once again strengthened ICRC’s longstanding commitment to people in need and our readiness to support authorities’ initiatives and efforts in identifying a sustainable solution to this crisis.
I am confident that we will continue to maintain and reinforce the relationship of trust with the Bangladeshi authorities that we established since the country’s inception in 1971, including the bilateral dialogue on humanitarian issues of common concern.
Ikhtiyar Aslanov is Head of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Bangladesh.