The Financial Express

Refugees, responses and realities

| Updated: October 25, 2017 05:29:22

Refugees, responses and realities

The world is shocked by the cruelty of the human crisis created out of ethnic cleansing in Myanmar.  To put the gruesome gravity in proper perspective, we can possibly  glean through some newspapers reports running over the past couple of weeks: the UN Secretary General Antonio Guteress issued a letter, unprecedented  in the last 28 years since the 1989 Lebanon conflict, to the Security Council  for its action on the ethnic cleansing in Myanmar; the French President Emmanuel Macron has termed the attacks on Myanmar's Rohingya minority as genocide and called on the international community to act to stop it; Endless influx: 1m by year end, predicts IOM;  "The situation seems a textbook example of ethnic cleansing,"  according to a UN press release issued in Geneva yesterday; the Bangladesh government, UN agencies and NGOs are also facing challenges in coordinating their activities for the newly arrived Rohingyas who are taking refuge anywhere they can -- roadsides, cropland, hills -- in Ukhia, Teknaf and Naikhyangchhari... And so on so forth.

  No sooner had the ferocity of two consecutive floods faded away, as a bolt from the blue, the country is forced to face a huge humanitarian crisis. The ethnic cleansing in Myanmar pushed out an estimated 450,000 Ruhiangas into the territory of Bangladesh. The country quickly responded to the clarion call of  human conscience and thus earned applause from home and abroad. But while appreciably addressing miseries, we should be efficient in programming the service deliveries.

Very recently the present author gathered first-hand knowledge on refugee management. It was from Muhammad Musa, Executive Director of BRAC. Admittedly, he carries a lot of credit in matters relating to management of refugee rehabilitation while serving as coordinator of CARE in different parts of the world such as in Thailand, Tanzania, Sudan and in some other places. Admirable as it is, he is also doing the same now on behalf of his organisation with respect to Ruhinga refugees.

 We are told that there are three phases in refugee rehabilitation programmes. The first phase comprises rapid influx of people - ill-fed and ill-clothed, psychologically shattered and tired by the terrific long journey. The whole  movements of people pass through  a noisy  and chaotic condition at this time. Emotions reign high, effective engagement,  coordination lacks, and some kind of 'do as you like' environment exists. Hue and cry thicken air all around, demand  for elementary goods and services, uncontrolled haphazard condition etc. occur in the first phase. By and large, receiving refugees with any kind of support any way and by any one leads to the end of the first phase extending possibly for 3-4 weeks. In fact, involved with this phase are individuals as well as public, civil (NGOs) and private institutions. "This is a complex and chaotic situation. We are trying to provide services on a priority basis. But that is nowhere near enough," says a UN official. It is almost impossible to manage food, shelter and medicine for so many people within such a short period.

Then comes the second phase marked by make-shift arrangements. Here coordination gets a gear, stock-taking of events and service delivery systems synchronized and systematized, transition to a relatively more effective delivery system takes place.  From roadsides, refugees are driven to temporary shelters served with coordinated, systematic and cool-headed services. This phase may last for 2-3 weeks or even more.  Presumably in this phase, the role of institutions get stronger and that of individuals weaker for obvious reasons. "The IOM in partnership with other NGOs is supplying some food and other relief materials to the makeshift camps, but that's negligible in comparison to the need, the official said. Many people have set up camps in areas, which are too far from established support centers to receive help. Most families are living in the open, in the rain, with children and the elderly at particularly high risk of getting sick".

 The third phase, relatively longer term and ranging from few months to few years (even decades), consists of creating organised camps, providing ID cards, developing  administrative structure suitable to meet long-term needs - such as schooling, modern health clinics and developing infrastructure. Mostly government and international agencies together would run the camps but non-government institutions could be called to compliment government or UN services.  The spread and depth of the 'long term' varies from country to country.

It is nice to note that all international and national agencies came forward to help the refugees from a humanitarian consideration. The government agencies have been doing their best on this count and so are individuals and institutions. The BRAC has responded well to the humanitarian crisis. It could be learnt that as of   September 25, the BRAC has reached thousands of people with health, hyeigine, sanitary and child-friendly facilities. All said and done, we have to keep a keen watch on women and child trafficking -a corollary of conflict and crisis condition. The criminals operate from both sides of the fence. Second, activities of inter-ministerial, inter-NGOs and other agencies should be well-coordinated, focused, and finally, the apex world body UN should see that the Ruhingas return home safe and sound. Bangladesh has shown its utmost empathy to the affected people coming from Myanmar. But a long-term engagement could put Bangladesh itself in serious socio-economic perils.

(Abdul Bayes is a former Professor of Economics at Jahangirnaagr University. Abdul.bayes@brac.net)


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