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Joint Response Plan for Rohingya Humanitarian Crisis - Mid-term Review (March-December 2018)




‘On the day that my family and I first came to Bangladesh, we were homeless and barely human … but the sincerity and warmth of the people in Bangladesh was overwhelming and felt good. My family and my relatives and I were very respected, and this is when I felt most dignified.’ – 55-year-old woman, Balukhali

When United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres visited the Rohingya refugee camps in July 2018, he called them a ‘miracle on the edge’: despite the massive lifesaving response thus far, refugees remain dangerously dependent on aid. Over one year into the crisis, compounding risks and vulnerabilities still threaten their safety and well-being.

Multiple times in recent decades, targeted violence in Rakhine State has forced Rohingya refugees into Bangladesh. As of September 2018, there are an estimated 921,000 Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar. During the night of 25 August 2017, four families crossed the border, the first to flee what became the worst violence in Rakhine State in recent history. According to the UN Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar, the targeted violence amounts to crimes against humanity. The mission also concluded that the crimes in Rakhine State are similar in nature, gravity and scope to those that have established a genocidal intent in other contexts. Over 700,000 refugees, including more than 380,000 children, followed those first arrivals over the subsequent four months, making this the largest and fastest refugee influx into Bangladesh ever. The majority arrived between August and December 2017, but arrivals have continued since then: from January to August 2018, over 13,000 refugees have arrived according to the RRRC Family Counting exercise. The majority of the refugees now live in 34 Camps in Ukhiya and Teknaf Upazilas that, by May 2018, had been formally designated by the Government of Bangladesh. The largest single site, the Kutupalong-Balukhali Expansion Site, is now home to 626,500 refugees.

The Joint Response Plan for the Rohingya Humanitarian Crisis covers March to December 2018, with a prioritized requirement of USD 951 million for 101 partners. The Joint Response Plan targets Rohingya refugees and affected host communities. Since March, the focus of the response has been on addressing priority gaps in services for both the refugees and affected host communities in need; on ensuring sustainable support including protection services; on emergency preparedness and risk mitigation for the 2018 cyclone and monsoon seasons; and on improving the quality of assistance. Building resilience and addressing environmental concerns are also core objectives of the JRP. Significant funds mobilized outside of the JRP, including but not limited to the Government of Bangladesh, MSF and Red Cross movement’s contributions, have formed critical elements of the overall response.

The Government of Bangladesh leads the Rohingya response, providing close guidance to the development of the Joint Response Plan and this Mid-Term Review. The partnership between the Government of Bangladesh and the ISCG has significantly strengthened since March, with room for continued improvement. Communication channels have been established with the Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner (RRRC), Deputy Commissioner, Upazilas, Unions, the Military, the line Ministries and Government agencies. These channels include regular coordination meetings cochaired by the ISCG Secretariat and the Upazila Nirbahi Officers, the ISCG Secretariat and the Military at Upazila level, and by the Senior Coordinator and the RRRC at Cox’s Bazar level. The Co-Chairs of the Strategic Executive Group and Senior Coordinator are also regular contributors to inter-Ministerial meetings, including the National Task Force in Dhaka. The priority remains continuing to invest in and strengthen these relationships, as well as to streamline and clarify the coordination structure in order to provide coherent and unified support to the Government of Bangladesh in its response to this crisis. In addition, improved, structured engagement with national civil society, which will continue to be strengthened, will contribute to building a clear roadmap to localisation over the coming period, in accordance with Grand Bargain commitments and recommendations from local actors and ICVA.

Since March, the role and extension of the Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief (MoDMR) in operational coordination of the response has strengthened, and critical steps have been taken including initiating the verification of Rohingya refugee identity, underpinning progress towards a unified population database. The verification of Ministry of Home Affairs biometric registration data, which has been gathered since the onset of the crisis, is led by the Government with technical support from UNHCR. At the Camp level, the extension of MoDMR has been marked with the significant evolution of camp management structures: an increase in the number and seniority of Camp-inCharge Officers and Assistant Camp-in-Charge Officers deployed in support of the RRRC, and the definition of Camp boundaries establishing five more formally designated Camps in Teknaf Upazila in May 2018 (to encompass large refugee settlements which had previously lacked camp management oversight).

The range of actors and funding streams in the response have diversified since March, with the Government of Bangladesh approval of USD 480 million grant over three years under the World Bank’s IDA18 Refugee Window marking a notable advance, in addition to the Asian Development Bank’s planned initial USD 100 million grant: these funds will be a critical contribution over the coming years, but will not cover all of the need for sustained response across Sectors. Since March, many humanitarian actors reached the limits of their capacity to scale up and focused on consolidation of their operations (following the admirably rapid expansion in number and scale of UN Agencies, INGOs, and NNGOs during the first six months of the crisis), with some experiencing consequent strains including in human resourcing, particularly in specialized Sectors such as Health and Education.

The NGO Platform was successfully established in July 2018 as an independent entity through the support of the ISCG Secretariat, which had hosted an NGO Liaison function as an interim measure during the initial phase of the response, filling the gap when numbers of NGOs on the ground grew exponentially, and no coherent, independent NGO coordination mechanism yet existed in Cox’s Bazar. The NGO Platform works to provide a voice for local, national and international NGOs.

Congestion has remained the central challenge for the response for refugees and across all Sectors, with space constraints resulting in continued poor living conditions due to extremely high density, in locations at risk of landslide and flood. In combination with poor access roads into the more remote Camps, ability to construct adequate services has remained restricted, let alone the availability of open spaces and shade for essential recreation and communitybased cohesion activities to address the psychosocial needs of refugees, aside of exacerbating protection risks, mostly for women and children. The Government of Bangladesh has generously expanded the available land to a total of some 6,000 acres in the Ukhiya and Teknaf Upazilas (estimated to be approximately 35% usable) and has overseen the relocation of some 43,000 people into newly developed sites (new arrivals, due to construction of infrastructure, and of people at highest risk of landslide and flood). However, this has not eased the congestion issue to meet basic internationally recognized humanitarian standards, in locations that are safe from weather exigencies, easily accessible, and provide opportunities for improved living conditions. Congestion also impacts the provision of necessary services where confidentiality is key, such as case management.

Since March, a small but notable increase in incidents of violence and tensions has been observed, both within the Camps, and between refugees and host communities. This has been anticipated and while multiple factors are driving it, extreme congestion and the lack of dignity and opportunity for refugees are linked to these concerning developments.

Since March, notable advances have been made in streamlining regulatory requirements for humanitarian access, including the introduction of the RRRC Humanitarian Pass to identify international staff authorized to access the Camps. Nonetheless, humanitarian partners continue to report challenges in this regard that appear to affect NGO partners in particular. Securing the necessary FD7 approvals by the NGO Affairs Bureau has continued to present challenges to particular activities such as education and protection services; however, collaborative identification of priority activities at the District level could offer a promising way forward to easing these constraints. In another positive development, the length of FD7 approvals were usefully expanded from three to six months. Complexities remain regarding the requirements at different levels (i.e. District, Upazila, and Camp), including the risk that administrative duplications may hinder operational effectiveness. There has been a notable increase in permissions related issues at the field level since June 2018. The Government of Bangladesh has offered consistent cooperation and support in reducing this burden while addressing its need for monitoring and oversight.

The international community remains ready to support a voluntary repatriation in safety and dignity when conditions in Myanmar are conducive. Developments on repatriation since March included the 13 April Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the Government of Bangladesh and UNHCR relating to voluntary returns of Rohingya refugees once conditions in Myanmar are deemed conducive; and the 6 June tripartite MoU between UNHCR, UNDP and the Government of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar establishing a framework for cooperation between the UN and the Government, aiming to promote conducive conditions for the voluntary, safe, dignified and sustainable repatriation of refugees from Bangladesh, Some progress has been made in implementing the 6 June MoU, though discussions continue on particular provisions. These steps follow the November 2017 agreement between the Governments of Bangladesh and Myanmar on the repatriation of Rohingya refugees, which recognizes the need for durable solutions, and affirms that return should be voluntary, safe and dignified. The operationalization of this arrangement remained under discussion between the two Governments at the end of August 2018.

Protection against Sexual exploitation and Abuse (PSEA) by humanitarian workers is priority for the Rohingya response. SEA undermines the integrity of humanitarian work, inflicting significant harm on vulnerable people, who we are mandated to protect under the principle of “do no harm”. Eradicating such acts represents a critical element of accountability to refugees and affected host communities. Towards this, the humanitarian community in Cox’s Bazar is implementing a PSEA Strategy approved by the Heads of Sub-Offices Group (HoSOG) and Strategic Executive Group (SEG) and disseminated to operational actors in the response.

This Mid-Term Review of the JRP tracks progress against the Strategic Objectives defined in the Plan, and the protection framework they are embedded in, identifying priorities to the end of 2018. Priorities to the end of the year have been underpinned by Sector and joint needs analysis (developed by the Needs Assessment Working Group with guidance from the NPM/ACAPS Analysis Unit and ISCG Secretariat, with specific focus on protection and gender mainstreaming from the Protection Sector and Gender in Humanitarian Action Working Group), and validated through consultative process with District Government, the Strategic Executive Group, the Heads of Sub-Offices, the Sector Coordinators Group and at Sector level, involving all operational Sector partners in the relevant technical areas:
Government of Bangladesh, INGOs, NNGOs, and UN Agencies.

Refugees’ opinions, priorities and needs were taken into account through Communications with Communities Working Group activities, and Sector-led needs assessments and engagement. Engagement included mechanisms such as focus group discussions on specific technical areas, though it is clear that more efforts need to be made in this regard. A Ground Truth Solutions survey conducted in July also sought overall feedback from refugees on their experience of the response to date and has fed into the analysis. Additionally, several key Communications with Community agencies have conducted research involving perceptions and needs of the Rohingya community. Intersector consultations included a host community response workshop with Upazila Nirbahi Officers (UNOs), their teams, and operational partners on 12 August; a joint needs analysis workshop on 16 August; a joint SEG/HoSO meeting on 28 August; and a District consultation, bringing together RRRC, DC and line Ministries, on 11 September 2018. Sectors held workshops and consultations in their technical areas with Sector partners, facilitated by Sector Coordinators, though staff turnover in the coordination teams during the review period impacted some Sectors.

Key priorities to the end of 2018 have been identified by Sector (in Part Two), and overall, underpinned by the needs analysis and review of progress against Strategic Objectives, and based on the consultations held in August and September. Overall priorities to the end of 2018 are to prepare for the second cyclone season; sustain life-saving assistance, improve quality and rationalize services; mainstream protection and gender; protect the environment and promote social cohesion.