A Rohingya refugee camp in Bangladesh A Rohingya refugee camp in Bangladesh  (AFP or licensors)

Save the Children: Over half a million Rohingya children lack food assistance

The humanitarian organization calls on the international community to adequately fund aid programs in the refugee camps after drastic cuts caused illnesses and systematic violence toward youngsters.

By Edoardo Giribaldi

Save the Children raised the alarm about the Rohingya families forced to live in refugee camps after fleeing violence in Myanmar and are seeking safety in Bangladesh. Their children's health and well-being, the charity says, are at risk due to recent drastic cuts in food assistance.

In a press statement, the humanitarian organization reported that half a million youngsters, mainly in Cox's Bazar camps, "the world's largest refugee settlement," receive "one-third less food than they did five months ago."

Lack of funding

Save the Children expressed concern that "people will be pushed even further into hunger and disease if there is no urgent additional funding," gathering testimonies that underline a collective fear of starvation.

"A 12-year-old boy said he had not eaten fruit in three months," the statement read. "Parents recount regularly finding themselves without food to feed their children and unable to sleep at night due to anxiety about their families' survival."

Hunger crisis

The hunger crisis was caused by a massive funding shortfall related to the World Food Program, which, as of March 2023, "has been forced to cut food assistance to the one million refugees in the camps by one-third to only $8 per month or $0.27 per day."

Save the Children reported how "Rohingya refugees depend almost entirely on food aid to survive, as they cannot leave the camps or formally work," specifying how, with the current $0.27 received every day, families can buy rice and a liter of oil and that "children are falling ill due to severe shortages of diverse and nutritious foods, such as meat, eggs, or vegetables."

Violence on children

The problem was already present before the funding cuts, "with 45 percent of Rohingya families" that "did not have a sufficient diet. "Malnutrition was widespread in the camps, with 40 percent of children in stunted growth," as the World Food Programme reported in a recent study.

Save the Children brought up the extreme conditions Rohingya refugees are subjected to, highlighting how the most significant burden falls on children, "increasingly victims of physical violence due to the lack of money and food that affects families."

The humanitarian organization's child protection team claimed how, this year, "physical abuse accounted for more than a quarter of all cases reported," also highlighting a shared feeling of fear "of armed gangs that engage in drug smuggling and human trafficking."

"We failed to provide a balanced diet"

The statement featured the testimonies of children speaking from the Cox's Bazar camps.

A 12-year-old boy who shares a shelter with his mother and sister after his father was killed in Myanmar, recounted how "we used to eat fresh fish in our meals" before the cuts. "Now, we cannot even buy enough lentils."

His mother shared her fears about further cuts in food assistance: "There are rumors that assistance will soon be reduced to $6 [per month]. If that happens, we will have no choice but to starve. When I go to pick up rice at the food assistance points, I feel like crying because the amount is so small."

Another mother spoke about the story of her five-year-old daughter, who was hospitalized for two months because of an infection. "They gave her nutritional support; she healed and recovered. But after that, we failed to provide her with a balanced diet and she got sick again."

Child labor and early marriages

The press release reported how more and more refugees are resorting to human traffickers to embark on journeys to Malaysia and Indonesia, "that have already cost thousands of lives."

“Families are feared to resort to any means to make a living, including child labor and early marriages.”

"A lost generation"

Shaheen Chughtai, Director of Save the Children in Bangladesh, warned about the risk of Rohyingia children becoming "a lost generation. They cannot remain stateless and unprotected, living their lives in an isolated limbo."

Mr Chughtai appealed to the international community to show "that it has not turned its back on them and adequately fund humanitarian programs in the camps."

"Most Rohingya refugees," he affirmed, "say they will return to their homes when conditions allow for a safe, dignified and voluntary return, with the assurance that their rights will be respected."

"Until that happens," Mr Chughtai concluded, "we must move beyond using humanitarian aid as a buffer. After six years, we cannot continue with a short-term approach."

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25 August 2023, 12:00