Assessing the Impact of U.S. Humanitarian Assistance in Burma and Bangladesh

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Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Simon Henshaw in Bangladesh.

Assessing the Impact of U.S. Humanitarian Assistance in Burma and Bangladesh

I recently led a delegation to Burma and Bangladesh to see firsthand what is happening on the ground and to assess the impact of the United States' humanitarian assistance. The delegation included representatives from our Bureaus of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor; South and Central Asian Affairs; and East Asian and Pacific Affairs. Also, thanks to Spokesperson Heather Nauert who joined us for the final leg of the trip to visit Dhaka and the refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh.

In Burma, we met with government officials, international organizations, and Rohingya and ethnic Rakhine community leaders, including a visit to a camp for Rohingya who have been internally displaced in Burma.  We then traveled to Bangladesh where we met with government officials, international organizations, and NGOs, and visited refugees in the Kutupalong camps in Cox’s Bazar, which has become the largest refugee settlement in the world.

What we saw in the Kutupalong camps was shocking. The scale of the refugee crisis is immense -- more than 600,000 people forced to flee their homes since August 25 -- and the conditions are tough. People are suffering. Many refugees told us, through tears, accounts of seeing their villages burned, their relatives killed in front of them.  Some recalled being shot at as they fled. Despite these traumatic experiences and Burma’s denial of their citizenship, many Rohingya expressed a strong desire to return to their homes in Burma -- provided their safety, security, and rights could be guaranteed.

The U.S. remains committed to addressing the needs of those impacted by this crisis. As such, Secretary Tillerson announced on November 15 that the United States is providing an additional $47 million in humanitarian assistance for these refugees, bringing the United States’ response to the Rakhine State crisis in Burma and Bangladesh to more than $87 million since August 2017, and total humanitarian assistance for displaced people in and from Burma to nearly $151 million since October 2016.

Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Simon Henshaw in Bangladesh.

This money saves lives. It helps provide protection, emergency shelter, food and nutritional assistance, as well as health care and psychosocial support for the more than 600,000 displaced Rohingya from Rakhine State, as well as Bangladeshi host communities affected by the crisis. Our funding also supports the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement agencies in northern Rakhine State to provide critical humanitarian assistance to all affected communities in Burma.   

As Secretary Tillerson said “the United States remains dedicated to humanitarian initiatives all over the world and is proud to distribute these funds as part of our ongoing efforts to help the Rohingya people.” We appreciate the generosity and the commitment from the government and people of Bangladesh, as well as of our humanitarian partners, including the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement, the International Organization for Migration, the UN World Food Program, and the United Nations Children’s Fund, who are all working together to provide emergency assistance to these individuals.

The U.S. was one of the first to pledge funds to support international organizations in this crisis, and our commitment has been followed by generous contributions from other donors. However, more is needed, and we call on others to join us in our response.

We will continue to engage governments and international and non-governmental organizations  involved to work toward durable solutions, including to create conditions that will allow for the eventual safe, voluntary, and dignified return of these refugees and others internally displaced in northern Rakhine State, in accordance with the recommendations of the Rakhine Advisory Commission. We take note that Burma and Bangladesh are discussing ways to make this happen, and we encourage the continuation of dialogues which can lead to political reconciliation and durable solutions to the crisis.

About the Author: Simon Henshaw serves as the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Population, Refugee, and Migration.

Editor's Note: This entry also appears on the U.S. Department of State's publication on Medium.com.

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