HomeArticlesMore food rations could devastate these refugees. Here’s why

More food rations could devastate these refugees. Here’s why

  • Food rations in the Cox Bazar refugee camp in Bangladesh are being cut for the second time since March.
  • From July, the Rohingya sheltering there may have to survive on just $12 (R230) each day.
  • The cuts will lead to more than hunger, writes Yasmin Ara. Abuse, conflict and human trafficking could all spike as well. 


For a Rohingya refugee, food rations are everything. We are not allowed to work. We are surrounded by a barbed-wire fence that stops us moving; goods are hard to bring in for trading and the few jobs there were have been lost.

So food is the resource we depend on the most. Now rations are being cut for the second time in a few months.

Our dependence has only increased now we cannot work. Before, close to half the refugees could make money in some way — working for NGOs, as daily labourers or traders — but that is no longer allowed by the Bangladesh authorities. So we have to rely on aid given by the World Food Programme (WFP). A person lives on limited rations — $12 (R230) for a month. This is not life, just survival.

Rations during Ramadan

Since 1 March we have been asked to live on even less — $10 (R190) — and, now again, we are told from June that our rations will be cut to $8 (R152). The reduction of $2 (R38) brought dire consequences and hardships. It started just at the beginning of the holy month of Ramadan, when people normally need more food of better quality.

The rations are the same for every person regardless of age. For example, households with more small children can somehow get by — living on rice and a curry of dried fish, or no curry at all. For other households of grown family members, the ration is insufficient. They find it very difficult when it runs out before the next distribution time. They need to beg or borrow from relatives or neighbours. It continues and rations get more and more insufficient because they need to give back the borrowing monthly as well.

The news about reducing food again has caused chaos and concern among the Rohingya refugees. According to the WFP, the reduction is because of a shortfall of funds.

A letter explaining the cuts has been published by the WFP. Bangladeshi camp officials informed majhis (camp community leaders) to make sure the news reaches all. The majhis announced it to the residents in their blocks after jumu’ah (Friday) prayers on 12 May. The majhis were instructed to ask the refugees not to react or create any problems. Everyone left the mosque looking confused and in despair over more hardship to come.

Some even suspect it’s a premeditated plan to make their life more miserable and create an environment to force them to return to Myanmar.

How more rations could lead to conflict

It will lead to more problems and conflicts. Domestic violence increases because of tension in the home. Crime may also increase if a man can’t support his family and needs to go beyond the law because of an empty stomach. And instead of sending their children to school, more parents will send them to work, to sell vegetables or snacks in order to scrape a few pennies that can go towards their food. What choice do they have?

There is also the danger of human trafficking. Young people are leaving the camp for Malaysia or other countries because of hardship. A lack of food here will push more to take such risky journeys. Adults and children can be tricked and trafficked easily. An empty stomach hinders the brain’s ability to identify risks.

We Rohingya are anxious about how long we can live under these conditions, of less food and more restrictions, under the threat of crime and violence. Crisis and constant hardship seems to be our fate.

Reducing food is worse than being jailed — even a prisoner can have two regular meals. The camp is already like a prison; refugees ache for freedom. The world has to understand our conditions and needs to act.

This article was originally published by The Guardian’s global development project part of Guardian News & Media Ltd.

Yasmin Ara is the founder of Rohingya Women Development Forum and also works for UN Woman Bangladesh.