Beyond the Headlines: US, UK announce millions in humanitarian funding for Rohingya refugees

International affairs

The US Department of State announced on March 8 that US$24 million in humanitarian assistance would be provided for Rohingya refugees living in Bangladesh. An additional $2m was allocated within the same plan for people in Myanmar “affected by ongoing violence” and for other communities hosting refugees from the country. The State Department said that the new funding raised the aid provided by the US to the Rohingya people to $2.1 billion since August 2017, at which time more than 740,000 members of the Muslim minority were forced to flee to Bangladesh by genocidal Myanmar military campaigns.

Two days after the move by the US, the UK announced its own humanitarian support package of £5.26m ($6.385m) for Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office declared that a total of £4.26m ($5.18m) of the new funding would be distributed through the World Food Programme and the remaining £1m ($1.216m) would be distributed through the UN refugee agency, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The UK’s minister for the Indo-Pacific, Anne-Marie Trevelyan, arrived in Dhaka on March 10 and was scheduled to visit southern border district Cox’s Bazar where nearly a million Rohingya refugees have taken refuge.

The countries’ efforts were announced after the UN launch of the 2023 Joint Response Plan for the Rohingya Humanitarian Crisis on March 7 under the leadership of the Bangladeshi authorities. The UN said it needed $876 million more to meet the humanitarian needs of the Rohingya, after shrinking donations led to them cutting food rations. 

Rohingya refugees take shelter after a huge fire in their camp in Ukhiya, Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh on March 6, 2023 (EPA)


Retailer Primark said 2,200 Myanmar garment workers who lost their jobs when two of its former suppliers closed their factories without notice should within a week receive all unpaid wages and severance pay that they are owed, according to a March 13 report by textile news Ecotextile. 

The Chinese-owned GTIG Huasheng and Primseng Guo, both located in the Wartayar Industrial Zone in Yangon’s Shwepyithar Township, ended their operations on February 28. The textile industry publication Sourcing Journal quoted a Primark spokesperson on March 8 who said that the allegations regarding how the workers were treated were “extremely concerning” and that its local team on the ground in Yangon was investigating the issue. According to its public sourcing map, Primark had contracts with 18 factories in Myanmar, including GTIG Huasheng and Primseng Guo, though the two were suspended last year for breaching its code of conduct, Sourcing Journal said. 

The retailer announced that it was withdrawing from Myanmar in September last year after a report from the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) urged brands to reconsider their presence in Myanmar because of the dire situation concerning human rights that has unfolded since the 2021 military coup. 

A Myanmar girl works among piles of clothes at a garment factory in the Shwepyithar Industrial Zone in Yangon in September 2015 (EPA)

Migration, human rights, and crime

Thai immigration police arrested a woman on March 7 alleged to be the leader of a human trafficking syndicate. The gang is said to have smuggled undocumented Myanmar migrants to Malaysia via Thailand, according to a report by the Bangkok Post, which described the people in question as being sent from Prachuap Khiri Khan to Thailand’s southern provinces of of Suratthani, Songkhla, Pattani and Yala, before crossing into Malaysia. They were each charged 17,500 baht (more than US$500) for transport, accommodation and food.

Citing a chief investigator for the bureau, the report said that the 53-year-old woman, identified only as Ms Palinee or Che Mai, was arrested at her home in greater metropolitan Bangkok. At the time of her arrest, bank records were said to have indicated that she had 21m baht ($608,413) in circulation in recent months. 

Junta affairs

Watch group Burma Campaign UK announced the addition of five more entities to its boycott list of Myanmar military-owned companies and brands on March 13. They are the Angel Bistro (Pathein), NayPyiDaw Wholesale, Five Star Compound (Yangon), Five Star Port, Thateka Wharf (Yangon), and Gandamar Wholesale. It noted that the businesses are largely part of already blacklisted companies. The campaign’s list names the products and brands of the military’s vast business empire, enabling individuals, companies, organisations and governments to avoid purchasing goods and services from them. 

Companies owned or controlled by Myanmar’s military provide “an important source of revenue” for the junta, literally “paying for the human rights violations they commit,” the statement said. 

“All embassies and aid donors in Burma should have policies not to buy goods and services from military companies, and that local and international NGOs cannot use their funds to purchase goods and services from military companies,” said Mark Farmaner, director of Burma Campaign UK, in the statement.


Students walk past a high school in Yangon on June 1, 2021 (EPA)

The Myanmar regime’s ministry of education has been holding matriculation exams for the 2022-23 school year, with testing scheduled from March 8 until March 18, according to news outlet DVB. The number of students sitting for the exam—161,851—has decreased dramatically since the coup, after which many students stopped participating in the junta-controlled education system. In 2019, prior to the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, there were more than 910,000 matriculation test-takers, of which around one-third passed the exams. In 2022, one year after the military takeover, this had dropped to around 280,000 participants, less than half of whom passed.

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