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UN set to hold urgent donor conference for Rohingya Muslim refugees

Rohingya refugees walk back to their makeshift home after collecting relief supplies, at the Kutupalong refugee camp in Ukhia, Bangladesh, on October 15, 2020. (Photo by AFP)

The United Nations (UN) says it will hold a virtual international donor conference to address a “dramatic shortfall” in aid funding for Myanmar’s persecuted Rohingya Muslim refugees.

The virtual conference, scheduled to run from 1200 GMT to 1430 GMT on Thursday, was called “to meet urgent humanitarian needs of forcibly-displaced Rohingya both inside and outside Myanmar.”

The UN had already appealed for more than $1 billion to meet the humanitarian needs of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. The hundreds of thousands of the refugees who fled Myanmarese state-sponsored violence to Bangladesh in 2017 joined many others who had already fled Myanmar in previous years.

The budgetary response to their needs is facing a “dramatic shortfall,” Andrej Mahecic, a spokesman for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said.

“Less than half of the requested funds have been received so far,” he told reporters at the UN in the Swiss city of Geneva on Tuesday.

Mahecic said the situation needed “stronger international support and a redoubling of efforts to find solutions for this stateless and displaced population.”

“The spread of the COVID-19 pandemic has added layers of new challenges and needs to an already complex and massive refugee emergency,” he said. “Across the entire region, most Rohingya live on the margins of society and they need to be assured access to basic healthcare, clean drinking water, a reliable food supply, or meaningful work and educational opportunities.”

A report from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) said on Tuesday that the 10-member organization had failed to respond effectively to the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar.

The report said the ASEAN had failed to acknowledge the gravity and scale of the human rights crisis in the Rohingya’s home state in Myanmar, the western state of Rakhine, and the Myanmarese authorities’ role in creating it.

ASEAN was hampered by its own institutional structure, which allowed member state Myanmar the space to “set the parameters of ASEAN’s engagement,” it said.

More than 730,000 Rohingya Muslims fled Myanmar’s Rakhine State to neighboring Bangladesh — joining more than 200,000 already there — amid a military-led crackdown in 2017 that the UN has said was perpetrated with “genocidal intent.”

Thousands were killed, and many others were raped, tortured, or arrested in the crackdown.

Thousands of Rohingya Muslims remain in Myanmar, living under apartheid-like conditions, confined to camps and villages and denied access to healthcare and education.

The Rohingya have inhabited Rakhine for centuries, but the state denies them citizenship. Bangladesh refuses to grant them citizenship, too.

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