The Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund (PWRDF), the Anglican Church of Canada’s relief and development arm, is contributing to a partner program providing relief to Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh, with a focus on combatting gender-based violence and increasing gender equality.
Nearly 1 million Rohingya, a Muslim ethnic group, are currently in refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar, a district of Bangladesh, after fleeing violence in Rakhine state in neighbouring Myanmar, which a UN official called “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”
Naba Gurung, PWRDF’s development and humanitarian response co-ordinator, was part of a team that visited the camps in November for a midpoint assessment of an appeal project through ACT Alliance, a humanitarian, development and advocacy coalition of churches and church-related organizations of which PWRDF is a member. PWRDF contributed $95,327 to the appeal.
The appeal is funding projects in food security, livelihood, shelter, hygiene, psychosocial work, and other areas.
One of ACT’s main focuses is gender equality and gender-based violence, says Gurung. Rohingya refugees have reported instances of mass rape and other sexual violence towards women by the Myanmar military.
There are also workshops for boys and men that deal with gender-based violence and family structure, Gurung says.
In addition, ACT partners have helped to set up learning centres for school-age children. “The Rohingya girls are trained and employed as teachers,” says Gurung. “And the good thing is, for these little girls, kids, these teachers are their role model.”
Community kitchens have also been set up to create space for vulnerable women who may lack fuel or cooking utensils to make food and socialize. Other food projects include food distribution, nutrition education and “micro-gardens” that can be grown in small spaces within the congested camps.
Refugees living in the camps are not able to work, use the official Bangladeshi school curriculum or build permanent structures, Gurung says. The government of Bangladesh is eager to repatriate the Rohingya to Rakhine state.
Bangladesh had planned to repatriate 2,200 Rohingya in November. Though the return was on a voluntary basis, protests in response sprang up in the refugee camps. Officials in Myanmar admitted that no refugees had been moved back across the border.
The massive influx of refugees has been a strain on the host community, Gurung notes. The need for shelters and firewood caused clearance of large swathes of forest, and locals have had to deal with increased military presence in the area. In response, Gurung adds, Bangladesh has requested agencies and NGOs working in the area to allocate 25% of their budget to programs addressing the needs of host communities.
While working in the area can be complex and bureaucratic, Gurung says Bangladesh has done an “incredible” job hosting an enormous refugee population.
PWRDF also previously took part in a food distribution project in the camps with the Canadian Foodgrains Bank (CFGB). Another such project began in January, with PWRDF to contribute $40,000 through its equity with CFGB. The funds will also be matched 4:1 by the Canadian government, and other partners are also involved, bringing the total size of the project to roughly $1 million, Gurung says.
See a video outlining PWRDF’s work in the camps: