World Vision International
Press Release • Friday, November 24th 2017

World Vision calls for safe, voluntary repatriation of refugees in Bangladesh

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COX’S BAZAR/ YANGON, 24 NOVEMBER 2017  -- Following the recent release of a Bangladesh foreign ministry statement announcing an agreement with the Government of Myanmar to start repatriating refugees who had fled violence in Myanmar back home within two months, World Vision calls on both governments to respect the right of all refugees to return in a safe, voluntary and dignified manner in line with international humanitarian standards.

“Any verification process should take into account the destruction of documents as part of the violence,” said World Vision’s national director in Bangladesh, Fred Witteveen. “It’s unrealistic to expect people who have fled extreme brutality to have salvaged any shred of documentation.”

Since late September, World Vision has worked with partners to distribute emergency food supplies to close to 135,000 refugees in Bangladesh, almost all who identify as Rohingya. “No matter what side of the border they are on, humanitarian needs will change little, and may increase if the return is not safe, orderly and voluntary, “ said Witteveen. “And even if those conditions are met, malnourished children will still be malnourished. Those who were raped, sexually abused and beaten will still need medical care and psychological first aid. Orphaned children will still find themselves without caretakers. Upper respiratory infections and some ailments may ease, but much will remain.”

Some 1.2m people in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar District- including those in overstretched host communities—need access to clean water and safe sanitation. More than 380,000 refugees are at risk of worsening malnutrition and need immediate interventions to stave off potentially fatal medical complications.

As part of a six-month response plan, World Vision identified the following urgent needs in makeshift settlements accommodating more than 800,000 people: shelter, boosting measures to protect children from exploitation, food rations, nutrition assistance, and improving water and sanitation sources. “We continue our work plan, and are on stand-by to learn how the latest news of an agreement will affect the numbers over time. Our priority remains unchanged: For the children who return, as well as those who remain in Bangladesh, it is a moral, legal and ethical duty for all parties to protect them from all forms of violence,” said World Vision’s director in Bangladesh.

Refugee reactions

In the five campsites where World Vision works, reactions have been mixed when refugees considered the prospect of return. All names have been changed to protect identities.

Twenty-year-old Rahana, who is still awaiting news of her husband’s fate after his disappearance, was firm. “We will never go back. We have suffered so much and felt so much pain there,” while 33-year-old Mohd Aslam longs for normalcy. “Back home normal activity was working in my farm. Here it is just waiting to get relief, as we can’t work. There is a stop to all the daily activities we used to do. I hope we can go back to Burma someday so that we can get back to our way of life before the violence broke out.”  Mohd Rashique, who lost a two-year-old nephew while the family attempted to escape, told World Vision: “All we want is peace in the region and our rights to live in our country so that we can start rebuilding our lives once again.”

Myanmar

Since fighting broke out on 25 August in the northern tip of Rakhine State in Myanmar, home to almost all those who fled into Bangladesh, humanitarian aid has been delivered exclusively by Myanmar Red Cross and the government. International NGO access remains restricted to conflict-affected areas.

"World Vision’s operations in Myanmar stand ready to respond to the needs of the most vulnerable children and families, including those to be repatriated, as soon as access is reopened," said World Vision’s national director in Myanmar, Suresh Bartlett, who was clear about the challenges ahead. World Vision recently partnered with the multinational manufacturer P&G to provide one million water purification sachets that will be distributed in coordination with the government in Rakhine State.

Expenses to cover refugees’ basic needs in Bangladesh until the end of March 2018 are estimated to cost USD 434m, while the cost of repatriation is yet to be estimated.

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For more information, spokespeople, photos and interviews, please contact:

Saibal Sangma | Director of Communications, World Vision Bangladesh mobile: + 88 01711543507  saibal_sangma@wvi.org | Skype: Saibal.sangma (Languages: Bengali, English)

Notes to editors

  • World Vision has been working in Bangladesh since 1972 when it started with emergency relief operations.
  • For 20 years, World Vision has had a regular field presence 67km from the affected area in Cox’s Bazar where it runs a community development program.
  • World Vision has worked in Rakhine State since 2016 on food programming and has had operations in  Myanmar since 1991.
  • For photos of two refugees interviewed for this article, please follow this link.

About World Vision

World Vision is a global Christian relief, development and advocacy organisation dedicated to working with children, families and communities to overcome poverty and injustice. World Vision serves all people, regardless of religion, race, ethnicity, or gender.