The Bangladesh parliament recommended imposing a population control program on tens of thousands of Rohingya refugees from Myanmar last month. Ironically, the Rohingya refugees fled from an oppressive regime in Myanmar which included a two-child policy. No one wants them to have children!
Bangladesh has hosted refugees from Myanmar’s ongoing ethnic cleansing of non-Burmese for 20 years, and is apparently growing weary of the task. On September 18, the standing committee on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Bangladesh recommended birth control for Rohingya mothers and cutting off food rations for any refugee children after the first two. As a member of the Bangladesh parliament, Ms Nilufer Zafar Ullah, put it: “One of the problems is their outnumbering the locals and so, birth control measures have been recommended.”
Nor are these violations of rights a mere local squabble. The monthly 12-kilogram bag of rice which some in the Bangladeshi government seek to withhold from children is provided by the international United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the United Nations World Food Program (WFP).
According to a 2012 UNHCR report, “WFP and UNHCR have been assisting the current population of registered refugees in Bangladesh since 1992. WFP provides food assistance to approximately 24,000 registered refugees and is responsible for provision of basic food commodities.”
A 2013 UNHCR news story stated: “Some 30,000 registered refugees in Kutupalong and Nayapara…are relying on regular distributions of food rations and relief items such as shelter and clothing. Basic water, sanitation and health services are provided by the government, UNHCR and its partners.”
Chris Lewa, the coordinator of the Arakan Project, spoke against the coercive measure by highlighting the existing chronic malnutrition in the refugee camps: “Cutting food rations to already malnourished children will put their lives at risk.” The local Arakan Rohingya association noted another problem: the already short rations are forcing refugees to send children whom they cannot feed to local villages to work as child laborers. The number of children sent away to work as laborers will only increase if food rations are eliminated to only the first two.
Yet while local activists decry the proposed eugenic deprivation of food, international aid agencies which provide the food have not moved to condemn it. In fact, the month before the Bangladesh parliament proposed mandatory birth control, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Country Representative Stina Ljungdell actually praised Bangladesh’s “good work and best practices” in the refugee camps.
The United States is the largest donor to the UNHCR by far, providing over $790,000,000 last year alone. And the use of food to coerce people into contraception or sterilization programs is specifically prohibited in U.S. law. Under the Tiahrt Amendment, which was drafted by PRI, it is illegal to “den[y] … rights or benefits as a consequence of an individual's decision not to accept family planning.”
The U.S. State Department should lodge a formal protest with the Bangladeshi government against the suggestion that U.S. funded food supplies be used as a weapon of eugenic politics.
A Rohingya woman holding UN relief provisions in the Nayapara refugee camp. (Image taken from the UNHCR facebook page.)
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