Recently appointed World Food Programme (WFP) Chief of Staff, Rehan Asad is of Bangladeshi origin. He spoke to Prothom Alo at length on the Rohingya situation and related issues.
Prothom Alo: You have observed the Rohingya problem up close from the very beginning and have visited Bangladesh several times. What is the condition of the camps?
Rehan Asad: I have visited several refugee camps. I have spoken to the people there. There was a sense of fear and alarm when they first arrived. That has abated somewhat. They are all getting food and shelter, but this is not the end. Previously, 10 to 15 thousand would cross the border every night, now perhaps less are coming. But they have not stopped coming. It was chaotic when they first came to Bangladesh but now things have improved. We have said that no one should die of hunger. We have ensured that. We went through an emergency over the past six months. We are now looking into what can be further done for them.
Prothom Alo: The immediate emergency is over, so what are the plans now? How are the development partners looking at the situation?
Rehan Asad: International agencies and states are focussing on two global problems at present. One is Yemen and the other is the Rohingyas. The White House holds a briefing every month where they discuss the Yemen and Rohingya issues. Rohingyas are one of the best funded globally till now. We are now thinking of their nutrition, education and other issues. Our team is working on what will happen after the next six months.
Prothom Alo: Bangladesh has given shelter to the Rohingyas despite its limited resources. But now all sorts of complications are cropping up regarding the Rohingya camps. The state of nutrition is alarming. There is a crisis of drinking water. The children are in a precarious state. How do you see the situation?
Rehan Asad: Seventy per cent of the Rohingyas coming into Bangladesh are young children, women and elderly people. This is a very challenging task. Syrian refugees have taken shelter in Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan. South Sudanese refugees are in Uganda and other African countries. But almost all Rohingya refugees are taking shelter in Bangladesh. And their camps are all concentrated in one area. This may be convenient for management, but it puts excessive pressure on one area.
Prothom Alo: It seems as thing problem will be here for a long time to come. What are you all planning?
Rehan Asad: Refugees from Syria and South Sudan have stayed in various countries for three years and are now returning. It took three years for South Sudan. We all want the Rohingya problem to be resolved as soon as possible. But as long as the problem exists, we will continue to provide assistance.
Prothom Alo: Is WFP’s main task only to provide Rohingyas with assistance? Do you have any programme for the Bangladeshis?
Rehan Asad: We are providing assistance to ensure food security for Bangladesh. We are providing school meals and undertaking many other programmes. We are working with the government for nutrition security. We will proceed ahead as we do in all emergencies. We will not stop our regular programmes.
*This report, originally published in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten in English by Ayesha Kabir.