The way food aid is distributed to Rohingyas needs to be adjusted as it is driving population growth in the country’s sprawling refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar, a senior Bangladesh government official has said.
Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal, the interior minister, suggested that because food rations encourage Rohingyas to have more babies, as he said, the government intends to cut food aid to refugees .
“Rohingyas, regardless of age, receive the same amount of food. An adult male and a newborn are given the same amount of food. Therefore, they give birth to more babies – 35,000 babies are born every year,” he told BenarNews on Monday, a day after leading a meeting of a government committee that coordinates and manages the law and the order in the camps in the southeast along the border with Myanmar. are home to around 1 million Rohingya refugees from neighboring Rakhine State.
The committee discussed food allocation and other security issues, according to Khan.
“Rohingyas have more babies for more food,” he said. “We have decided that the amount of food will be reduced. Our relevant agencies will work out a new ration standard.
The number of babies in the camps is about half of what Khan claimed, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
In response to a request for details from BenarNews, the bureau released a spreadsheet showing that there were 18,858 children under the age of one in Rohingya camps as of February 28.
Md. Shamsud Douza, another refugee relief and repatriation commissioner under the Ministry of Disaster Management, told BenarNews that food allocations for Rohingya refugees are set in coordination with the World Food Program (WFP), a United Nations agency.
“Each Rohingya family receives a monthly food card with per capita allowances of 980 taka ($11.40) to 1,030 taka ($11.97). They are collecting rice and 19 other basic necessities from certain shops designated by WFP, according to their needs,” Douza told BenarNews on Tuesday.
He said his office had not received any direction regarding the change in allowances.
Officials from the WFP and UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, did not immediately respond to BenarNews’ multiple requests for comment on Khan’s proposal.
Human rights activists, meanwhile, have criticized the government, saying cutting food allowances will not reduce the birth rate among the Rohingya and that such efforts could lead to malnutrition and food insecurity.
Md. Jubair, secretary of the Arakan Rohingya Society for Peace and Human Rights, said the allowances were already insufficient.
“We receive a maximum of 1,030 taka per person per month. With this small amount, we buy 13 kilograms of rice, pulses, fish, salt, edible oil, vegetables and other essential products. It is very difficult to manage a family on this allowance,” he said.
Another campaigner said such cuts would have a negative impact.
“The amount of food aid given to each Rohingya family helps them to live with minimum needs. Reducing it further is not acceptable as it would have a disastrous impact on the health and food security of the entire Rohingya population, especially women and children,” Professor Mizanur Rahman, a former Rohingya, told BenarNews. President of the National Human Rights Commission.
“If the government cut food rations, women would not cut food allowances for male family members and cut them for themselves and children. In this case, women and children will face malnutrition and food shortage,” he said.
He added: “All over the world, the poor think they have more children for more food or more income and the Rohingya should not be isolated in this regard.”
Nur Khan, former executive director of Ain-O-Salish Kendra (ASK), a Bangladeshi human rights group, also disputed Khan’s comments.
“It’s really a shame that we hear such an unfair comment on Rohingya food intake. Talking about someone’s food is not decent,” he told BenarNews.
“There is no correlation between increasing the food allowance and a population boom: reducing the food allowance would not reduce the birth rate. I would strongly oppose any decision to reduce food allocation to Rohingya under the guise of lowering birth rates,” he said.
Birth control efforts
According to Dr. Pintu Kanti Bhattacharya, deputy director of Cox’s Bazar district family planning department, the higher birth rate among the Rohingya stems from superstition, religious bigotry and a lack of education.
“Local and international NGOs and the government family planning department have been working to motivate the Rohingya to adopt birth control measures,” he told BenarNews.
“Family planning workers go door to door twice a week in the camps and provide counseling so that they understand the benefits of family planning,” Bhattacharya said, adding that the agencies provide contraceptives, including pills, injections and condoms.
“Compared to the situation in 2017 and 2018, the Rohingya are more supportive of family planning,” he said.
Bangladesh has seen an influx of around 740,000 Rohingya since Myanmar’s military crackdown on the stateless Muslim minority group in August 2017.