UN Resident Coordinator Mia Seppo’s Statement on the Launch of the Joint Response Plan 2021 for the Rohingya Humanitarian Crisis

This speech highlights focuses on providing life-saving assistance & services, including food & nutrition, healthcare etc. for the Rohingya Humanitarian Crisis.

Thank you for the opportunity to make a statement on behalf of the nine operational UN agencies working on the Rohingya response in Cox’s Bazar, UNHCR, IOM, WFP, UNICEF, UNFPA, UN Women, WHO, FAO and UNDP.

Since we launched the 2020 JRP in March last year, the world has been confronted with the COVID-19 pandemic. So too Bangladesh and the Rohingya settlements in Cox’s Bazar – some of the most densely populated places on earth.

In support of the Government’s COVID response, we took collective action to curb the spread of the virus by expanding COVID-19 health facilities, services, and testing, limiting the movement of humanitarian personnel to the camps and scaling back to critical activities only, while also supporting refugee men and women to respond to the needs of their own communities.

These efforts have so far been largely effective in reducing the worst of the projected impacts on Cox’s Bazar, though uncertainty remains and there is no room for complacency.

At the same time, we must recognize that scaling back to critical activities only has come at the cost to the quality of life of affected communities and a full response. We have not been able to rollout planned new activities like the Myanmar curriculum or expand skills building activities. Better coordination of development assistance for host communities, which is to offset the impact of hosting large numbers of refugees, is still needed.

When the situation allows, we plan to quickly scale up these critical activities.  This will be particularly important for the almost half a million children – many of whom have been seriously impacted by ongoing COVID-19 restrictions – to have productive ways to spend their time by offering them learning opportunities and in preparing them for return.

The 2021 JRP is the result of a consultative process, ably led by the Inter-Sector Coordination Group in Cox’s Bazar, involving all stakeholders: affected communities, the UN and NGOs, local authorities, and development partners.

There have also been extensive consultations on the JRP with the Government, particularly the Ministry of Foreign Affairs [and I thank the State Minister for his valuable remarks and once again his participation at the Launch]. These consultations have helped us streamline the 2021 JRP, which we hope will provide a template for future versions and make it a more easily accessible tool.

We recognize that the process of formulating the JRP can be further improved and we will have a discussion with the various constituencies in advance of the formulation of the 2022 JRP.

Allow me to make four brief observations about the content of the 2021 Plan.

First, the JRP retains a significant focus – some two thirds of the total amount targeted – on providing life-saving assistance and services, including food and nutrition, healthcare, shelter, water and sanitation.

Let me be clear: support for these activities in Cox’s Bazar remains absolutely critical in 2021, particularly given refugees are still largely dependent on humanitarian assistance; not permitted to leave the camps or work; and, as others around the world, affected by the ongoing impacts of COVID-19.   

Second, the JRP 2020, as High Commissioner Grandi has already noted, also continues to be guided by a protection framework, which recognizes the need for a clear focus on targeted protection issues and activities.

This includes: a strong commitment from the UN and its partners to a community-led, rights-based and participatory approach to the provision of assistance and protection services; gender, age and disability mainstreaming; preventing sexual exploitation and abuse; and accountability and do no harm to affected populations.

This is important as we have seen an increased securitization of the camps and a deterioration in the protection environment in the last year. We must therefore work, in support of the Government, to ensure that the civilian and humanitarian nature of the camps is maintained; easy and predictable humanitarian access to the camps is preserved; and affected communities are consulted on the decisions that affect their lives and wellbeing and play an active role in protection of their own communities.

Third, the Plan also makes a renewed commitment to working toward solutions in Myanmar, as reflected in Strategic Objective 4. Voluntary and ssustainable repatriation in safety and dignity remains the wish of the majority of refugees in Bangladesh, and a shared objective of the Government of Bangladesh and the UN.

In Bangladesh we will continue to support refugees to build the skills to support their eventual sustainable reintegration in Myanmar. The UN in Myanmar continues to try and lay the foundations for sustainable return. We continue to monitor closely the evolving situation in Myanmar, and its impacts on Bangladesh and the region. 

Fourth, the 2021 JRP also recognizes the notable developments in relation to Bhasan Char. Since the last launch, the Government has relocated some 18,000 Rohingya refugees to the island. A UN in Bangladesh team visit, facilitated by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, also took place from 17-20 March to look at the situation and the feasibility of establishing humanitarian operations there.

Further to the visit, the UN has recognized the significant investments the Government has made on the island, as well as the clear protection and humanitarian imperative of the Rohingya refugees living there. The UN has since shared its findings and made a number of key recommendations to the Government.

The Government and UN have now agreed to further discussions regarding future UN operational engagement on Bhasan Char, including on the framework that governs the life and wellbeing of Rohingya refugees on the island. We hope these discussions will take place as early as possible.

Last but not least, as Tagore wrote “Trees are the earth's endless effort to speak to the listening heaven”, and support also remains vital in 2021 for ongoing greening of the camps and restoring the environment. 

In closing, I would like to recognize the participation on the panel of my NGO colleagues, Ms. Runa Khan and Ms. Orla Murphy. NGOs – both Bangladeshi and international – continue to play a critical role in the response. And the majority of JRP partners are Bangladeshi NGOs. The mainstreaming of localization, and the predictable and effective access of NGOs remain important priorities for 2021. 

Allow me to lastly thank all of my colleagues engaged in the response in Bangladesh, the Government of Bangladesh and most importantly, the Rohingya refugees themselves, who work hard each day to deliver an effective response.

We are grateful for the continued support to the 3 previous JRPs. We hope you will continue to support the response to the Rohingya crisis and Bangladesh – who continue to be generous hosts to the Rohingya and bear enormous responsibility for this crisis.

We have a better chance of facing the challenges and the opportunities ahead if we do it together. Thank you.

UN entities involved in this initiative
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
International Organization for Migration
United Nations Resident Coordinator Office
UN Women
United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women
United Nations Development Programme
United Nations Population Fund
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
United Nations Children’s Fund
World Food Programme
World Health Organization