Mark Lowcock, who has just returned from a visit to Bangladesh, said Myanmar has failed “to put in place confidence-building measures that would persuade people it’s safe to go back.”
He said all the refugees he spoke to didn’t think it was safe to return, and want to be assured of things like freedom of movement and access to education, jobs and services.
Most Myanmar people consider the Muslims in northern Rakhine illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, even though their families have lived in the country for generations.
Lowcock told a small group of reporters he is “extremely worried” that the UN appeal for US$962 million (K1.46 trillion) to provide for the refugees and their host communities in Bangladesh this year is only 17 percent funded.
“I think the world may be losing interest,” he said. “Last year, we got 70pc of what we asked for. We’re running way behind.”
He warned that “if we don’t get financed, the consequences will be serious” for the provision of such things as food and health services.
Lowcock visited Bangladesh with UN refugee chief Filippo Grandi and Antonio Vitorino, head of the International Office for Migration. In a joint statement, they stressed the need to sustain support for the Rohingya refugees and to keep working for “safe and sustainable solutions” so they can return home.
They noted that almost half the 540,000 refugee children under age 12 are missing out on education, and the rest are only getting limited schooling.
“I think the world ought to worry about what this very large group of people will be like in 10 years’ time if they don’t get an opportunity to access education and a chance to develop a livelihood and have a normal life,” Lowcock told reporters.
While the best solution would be for the refugees to return home, he said, “in any event it’s a bad idea to run the risk of a very aggrieved, disaffected large group of young people, especially young men.”
Lowcock said Bangladesh’s government expressed concern to the three UN officials during the trip about criminal activity among refugees in the Cox’s Bazar area.
“There are well-known concerns about the narcotics industry trying to use populations in Cox’s Bazar to support their malign activities,” Lowcock said, adding that there are also concerns about possible radicalisation of refugees.
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