Washington, DC – The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) welcomes the launch of the 2023 Joint Response Plan for the Rohingya Humanitarian Crisis in Bangladesh. This new funding includes nearly $24 million for programs specifically in Bangladesh, providing life-sustaining support to nearly 980,000 predominantly Muslim Rohingya refugees—many of them survivors of religiously based genocide, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing—as well as support to nearly 540,000 host community members in Bangladesh.
“USCIRF continues to stand in solidarity with the Rohingya people, both those still within Burma and those who have been forced to flee,” said USCIRF Commissioner Stephen Schneck. “We also do not forget the work that the Bangladeshi people and government have done to ensure the survival of the approximately one million Rohingyas for whom Cox’s Bazar represents crucial refuge and shelter.”
In November 2022, Commissioner Schneck led a USCIRF delegation to visit Cox’s Bazar and assess the conditions for Rohingya refugees in the camps. USCIRF released a policy update in December in partial response to updates from that visit. While the Bangladeshi government has provided vital help, such as allowing a Burmese curriculum for Rohingya children as well as skills and livelihood training for youth and adults, it has exacerbated the safety and security situation of the camps by restricting building materials and minimizing permitted economic activity. Recently, a massive fire destroyed thousands of primarily bamboo-made structures, killing dozens of people, and criminal groups reportedly murdered at least 40 refugees in the camps last year. According to USCIRF’s analysis, deteriorating security—both due to natural disasters and criminal activity—will not improve until the Rohingya refugee community receives full and basic rights to freedom of movement, livelihood, and access to education.
“With this announcement, the United States renews its commitment to one of the world’s most overlooked victims of religious freedom violations: the Rohingya people,” stated USCIRF Commissioner Frank Wolf. “We must continue to work with our international partners, including those in the Bangladeshi government, to find creative ways to maintain funding and effectively utilize aid for Rohingya refugees to promote security in the camps. These efforts must include the ability to build in the camps with more sustainable and fire-proof sources, such as concrete, and to provide more economic and education opportunities.”
In its 2022 Annual Report, USCIRF recommended the U.S. Department of State redesignate Burma as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC). In 2022, USCIRF also published a Burma Policy Update on the repercussions of the 2021 Burma coup, elaborating on religious freedom conditions in Burma and providing recommendations to the U.S. government. USCIRF recently hosted a hearing on the situation in Burma following two years of rule by the military junta, and the impact of that crisis on religious freedom conditions.