World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim and United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres came to Bangladesh to see firsthand the world’s fastest-growing refugee crisis.
Before they left, they urged the world not to turn a blind eye to the plight of Rohingya refugees fleeing their homes in neighboring Myanmar.
Over 700,000 Rohingya have taken shelter in Cox’s Bazar in southeastern Bangladesh since August 2017. Many now fear that their shanty homes – made of bamboos and plastic sheets, perched on deforested hills – could crumble under the heavy rains of the monsoon season.
But the flow of refugees has not stopped. As Kim and Guterres visited Cox’s Bazar under gray skies, more people arrived with stories of hardship and brutality.
“I have worked in some of the poorest countries in the world, but the experience here has been deeply troubling,” Kim said. “I have been deeply moved by the courage and the dignity of the Rohingya people, and appalled by their stories of what they had to endure: rape, torture, killing, burning of homes. As the UN Secretary-General said, the Rohingya are one of the most discriminated against and vulnerable communities on Earth. ”
The Government of Bangladesh has done the world a great service by keeping its borders open and supporting the refugees, Kim said. But the responsibility should not be Bangladesh’s alone.
The number of refugees in Cox’s Bazar— one of the poorest districts in Bangladesh—is now more than twice that of the local population.
Despite its own challenges, Bangladesh has been drawing from its own resources to respond to the crisis. Among other measures, the country has allocated 5,000 acres of land for temporary shelters, provided food relief, deployed mobile medical teams, and carried out large-scale immunization campaigns. Bangladesh has built 13 access roads to the temporary and registered camps and established water points and sanitation facilities.
With the monsoon rains continuing, the government has relocated 30,000 people to safer ground while preparing to move other vulnerable people, with support from UN agencies and non-governmental organizations
As the needs continue to grow, the World Bank Group announced last week up to $480 million in grant-based support to Bangladesh for health, education, sanitation, disaster preparedness, and other services for the refugees until they can return home safely, voluntarily, and with dignity. This financing will also help build the country’s capacity to deal with the crisis. The World Bank’s ongoing programs also will support the people in Cox’s Bazar.
But the UN Secretary-General said more funds are urgently needed as a key $950 million humanitarian aid plan is just over a quarter funded.
Prior to visiting Cox’s Bazar, Kim and Guterres met with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to express their gratitude to the people and government of Bangladesh.
“The government’s relief effort, along with those of domestic and international relief agencies, has saved thousands of lives,” Kim said. “We look forward to continuing to work with the government to create and maintain dignifying living conditions for the Rohingya people. We’ve come to an agreement that we will build some more permanent structures and provide more services—the kinds of basic things that everyone needs, such as health care and education.”
Kim explained that support for the Rohingya is one of several areas where the Bank Group is working closely with Bangladesh.
“With respect to the government of Bangladesh, we believe so strongly in the direction they are going – for issues quite separate from the Rohingya – that we provided over $3 billion of low interest, long maturity loans this year for Bangladesh’s development priorities,” Kim said.
He added that this is the highest level of financing the World Bank has ever provided to Bangladesh from the International Development Association—the Bank’s fund for the poorest countries. IFC, the World Bank Group’s private sector arm, also committed more than $420 million [AC1] [DLB2] of financing to private companies in Bangladesh this year.
“We consider Bangladesh an important partner in reducing global poverty, and we’re committed to helping Bangladesh achieve its aspiration of becoming an upper-middle income country,” Kim said.
The joint World Bank-UN visit to the refugee camp signals a closer working relationship with the United Nations to address fragility, conflict, violence, and forced displacement—situations that can last a decade or more, requiring more resources than humanitarian aid alone can provide.
Kim, Guterres, and Filippo Grandi, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, all described the current level of cooperation between the World Bank and UN agencies as unprecedented.
“We have been working very closely with our UN partners to bring humanitarian response and development together,” Kim said. “The refugee situation around the world is everybody’s problem. It’s not just a problem for host countries, or just a problem for the refugees—this is everybody’s problem. What I saw today was heart-breaking and appalling. On the other hand, I was deeply inspired by the courage and dignity of the people who were kind enough to speak with us.”
“The work is not done; it’s just getting started,” Kim concluded. “At the World Bank Group, we are committed to doing more to make sure that the Rohingya, and all of us, can see justice. We are all Rohingyas.”