Two Years Into the COVID-19 Pandemic, Rohingya Refugees and Their Hosts in Bangladesh Remain Highly Vulnerable

Photo: WFP/Mehedi Rahman/2021
Published March 14, 2022

COX’S BAZAR – The almost 1 million Rohingya refugees and their host community in Cox’s Bazar remain vulnerable and need continued support almost five years after they were forced to flee their homes for safety, according to the latest Refugee Influx Emergency Vulnerability Assessment conducted by the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) and its partners.

The Rohingya’s extreme vulnerabilities are further exacerbated by large-scale hazards, including fires and floods that hit the camps in 2021. Almost all 900,000 refugees – 95% of them – remain entirely dependent on humanitarian assistance today. In the host community, where most families rely on daily-wage jobs, a slow economic recovery after COVID-19 lockdown measures has caused their vulnerability levels to increase, with 52% of the families considered moderately to highly vulnerable now compared to 41% in 2019.

“The Ukraine crisis is a stark reminder that no one chooses to be a refugee. In this year of unprecedented humanitarian need, we hope the international community won’t lose sight of the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, who are more vulnerable than ever and may be plunged further into destitution by the impact of food and fuel price hikes,” said Sheila Grudem, the U.N. World Food Programme senior emergency coordinator in Cox’s Bazar.

Access to food remains a top priority for both refugees and host communities, with 82% and 59% of families, respectively, reporting so. They are also worried about the continuation of food assistance. A growing number of families in both communities fall into debt to cover their most essential needs, such as food. This is particularly worrying as their ability to withstand any new shocks and stressors will be compromised.

In 2021, the U.N. World Food Programme continued to provide monthly cash-based food assistance to almost 900,000 Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar and increased the number of fresh food corners available at its retail outlets in the camps. All refugees can now purchase fresh fruits and vegetables, live chicken and fish from the outlets using their monthly entitlements known as “e-vouchers.” This assistance also provides substantial economic opportunities for the host community, injecting $11 million into the local economy every month.

The U.N. World Food Programme also continued its cash assistance to host community families affected by the economic consequences of COVID-19, reaching 450,000 people in 2021. The U.N. World Food Programme directly provides economic opportunities year-round in the host community through cash-for-work programs as well as livelihoods grants and business skills trainings.

“In 2022, we count on the continued support of all donors to help us provide vital assistance to Rohingya families as well as their host community, who has demonstrated remarkable solidarity by welcoming them almost five years ago. Any drop in funding will directly threaten the food security of refugees and make the recovery of the communities more difficult,” Grudem added.

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The United Nations World Food Programme is the world’s largest humanitarian organization, saving lives in emergencies and using food assistance to build a pathway to peace, stability and prosperity for people recovering from conflict, disasters and the impact of climate change.

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