Wednesday, October 12, 2016

When aid isn't aid

In 2012 mobs of ethnic Rakhine Buddhists drove minority Muslim Rohingyas from their homes. Four years later, about 120,000 people remain displaced.

The UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, hailed a government programme that gave 22,000 displaced Rohingya US$1,000 cash grants to rebuild homes as a “first step towards ending displacement”. Most of the beneficiaries of the programme had been living in or near their original villages, rather than in the squalid camps for internally displaced people around the state capital, Sittwe.

The UN’s World Food Programme now faces a dilemma: When they were IDPs, the Rohingya received food rations; now that they are back in their homes, rations have been cut. The WFP wanted to wean the Rohingya communities off aid to make them more self-sufficient. But they still live under an apartheid-like system that severely restricts their ability to work. The problem is Rohingyas like can’t find employment. So the Rohingya are hungry.  Returned Rohingya are struggling to feed themselves. The WFP had been providing each IDP with monthly rations of rice, beans, oil and salt. Now, only those identified as especially vulnerable—the elderly, disabled, orphans, and single mothers—are receiving rations, while children are receiving a soy nutrition supplement.

“Now we have homes, but we need money to buy rice and we don’t have money,” said Oli Armouk

“Without freedom of movement, farmers can’t go to their fields, fishermen can’t go to the sea, traders can’t go to the market, students can’t go to university, and sick people can’t get to the nearest hospital,” said Pierre Peron, a spokesman for the UN’s aid coordination body, OCHA.

 Laura Haigh, a researcher with Amnesty International who recently visited some villages affected by the ration cuts, said that removing food aid while movement restrictions were still in place puts vulnerable communities at even greater risk.

The International Rescue Committee and the Danish Refugee Council had asked the WFP to delay the cuts for six months until a food security assessment could be carried out

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