In recent months, there have been UK government proposals to build a floating wall in the English Channel to keep out migrant dinghies, install water cannons that create waves to push away refugee boats, and create offshore detention camps on islands thousands of miles away.
The UK has hardly thrown its arms open to refugees in 2020. Indeed, asylum seekers are perhaps more likely to be met with war ships than welcome banners. It’s led to Global Citizen launching a campaign urging people to write to their MP, asking them to offer safe passage.
But every government, to some degree, can behave like a Hydra with personality defects — having many heads that move in conflicting directions. Whether it’s taking carbon out of the atmosphere while investing billions in the most polluting fossil fuels, or sending aid to stop starvation in Yemen while selling weapons to Saudi Arabia, the UK is full of contradictions.
The refugee crisis is no different: although the UK has been actively working towards making the country an unattractive destination for refugees, it has for many years also done a lot of good — primarily through its aid budget, intended to be focused on the world’s poorest people.
Dominic Rabb, the UK’s foreign secretary, announced on Oct. 22 that the Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office (FCDO) would be working through the aid budget to support 860,000 Rohingya refugees and help Bangladesh deal with COVID-19 and natural disasters.
It’s a package that includes essentials like food, health care, water, sanitation, and mental health support for the refugees stuck in overcrowded camps in Cox’s Bazar, the world’s largest refugee settlement in Bangladesh.
In addition, it will offer improved education access for 50,000 young people, create COVID-19 treatment and isolation centres, and strengthen support for Bangladesh’s health system and defences against disasters like flooding.
The UK is providing lifesaving support for Rohingya refugees, to host communities, and to help Bangladesh with its response to the coronavirus pandemic and natural disasters.— Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (@FCDOGovUK) October 22, 2020
The commitments came as the UK co-hosted the Rohingya Conference, an international summit to galvanise international support, alongside the United States, the European Union, and UNHCR, the United Nations’ refugee agency.
“The people living in Cox’s Bazar face unimaginable hardship and many have been victims of violence,” Rabb said in a statement. “We have imposed sanctions on the perpetrators of this brutality, and this new funding will save lives in the camp and help Bangladesh become more resilient to disasters such as coronavirus.”
“Today I urge the world not to turn away from the Rohingya’s suffering and to take the action necessary to allow them to safely return to the homes they fled in terror,” he added.
The UN has appealed to the international community for more than $1 billion to meet the needs of Rohingya Muslims. So far just half of that has been raised.
Myanmar’s government repressed the Rohingya people, an ethnic minority that represented the country’s largest proportion of Muslims, for many years. But in 2017, the military were accused of a "textbook example of ethnic cleansing", forcing hundreds of thousands to flee to neighbouring Bangladesh.
Many now live in refugee camps with a dearth of fundamental services — with 600,000 people living in an area spanning just 13km2, according to UNHCR.
The fresh UK commitment — of £47.5 million — brings the total amount of aid spending on the Rohingya crisis in Bangladesh to £300 million since 2017.