WB offers Bangladesh both loan and grant for Rohingya crisis

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Newly arrived Rohingya wait for their turn to collect building material for their shelters distributed by aid agencies in Kutupalong refugee camp, Bangladesh, Sept. 13, 2017. With Rohingya refugees still flooding across the border from Myanmar, those packed into camps and makeshift settlements in Bangladesh were becoming desperate for scant basic resources as hunger and illness soared. AP FILE PHOTO

At a time when Bangladesh is hosting over a million Rohingya refugees as a show of compassion, the World Bank is offering the country financial aid in a mixed form of loan and grant.

However, Bangladesh is insisting that the bank’s aid come fully as grant.

Amid atrocities on Rohingyas in Myanmar, termed ethnic cleansing by the UN, Bangladesh shared its scarce resources with over 6 lakh Rohingyas, who crossed the border in just over two months since late August, and gave them shelter. Over three lakh Rohingya nationals were already in Bangladesh following previous influxes.

Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) earlier raised its objection at the offer of assistance in the form of loans.

Yet, a World Bank team has indicated that it may provide financial support of $250 per head for one million Rohingyas staying in Bangladesh, but 50 percent of it will come as grant while the rest will be given as loan. But some top ministry officials expressed their reservation about taking such loans.

A six-member WB mission completed its 14 day visit to Dhaka on Saturday. Finance and other ministry sources said the team made the indication during the visit. Though they did not exactly say how much fund will be provided, it is assumed that the amount may be $250 million to $300 million.

The team which came to Bangladesh on October 22 went to Cox’s Bazar and on its return to Dhaka, sat with officials from the relief and disaster management, education, home and health ministries as well as from the local government engineering department.

In the meetings, the WB said a country may get a maximum of $400 million from the WB refugee window; one-sixth of which will be from regular soft loan allocation and the remaining five-sixth will come from the refugee window.  Fifty percent of the amount will be grant and 50 percent loan.

Relief and disaster management ministry officials proposed giving the whole amount as grant as the assistance is being given on humanitarian grounds. Officials of the other ministries echoed the same view.

Foreign ministry officials said the government has different opinions about taking loans from development partners.  It wants quick return of the Rohingyas and as such it has not yet formally announced them as refugees.  If the loan is taken from the bank, it would mean allowing the crisis to linger.

Finance ministry officials said a wrap up meeting with the WB mission was held at the Economic Relations Division on Saturday.

The ERD said they will convey their detailed opinion about the assistance after opinion of the ministries concerned is received. The WB team will quickly send the draft proposal to the ERD.

A WB document, which outlines the criteria to be eligible for the assistance, does not say Bangladesh has to formally declare the Rohingyas as refugees.

However, Dhaka has to meet two major criteria to get the fund.

“A country would be eligible if the number of Unhcr-registered refugees, including people in refugee-like situations, is at least 25,000 or it is at least 0.1 percent of the country’s population,” according to the document.

In addition to that, it would need to have in place an action plan, strategy or similar documentation that describes concrete steps, including possible policy reforms.

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