Note to G7: Now Is the Time to Support Rohingyas and Their Hosts

June 08, 2018

Bangladesh is hosting nearly one million Rohingya refugees—mostly crowded into in one of the country’s less-developed areas, Cox’s Bazar. Of these, roughly 700,000 Rohingya have crossed into Bangladesh since last August. They were fleeing a wave of violence the United Nations has called a “textbook case of ethnic cleansing,” after suffering years of systematic violence, oppression, and discrimination by the Myanmar state. A minority population stripped of citizenship in the 1980s, the Rohingya have been denied access to education, meaningful livelihoods, and other basic rights for years. Now as refugees in Bangladesh, Rohingya need protection and support to secure health services, safety, food, education, and other opportunities.

Building on its long history of supporting refugees, Canada is playing a leading role in responding to one of the biggest displacement crises in recent decades. Canada’s persistent diplomatic and humanitarian efforts are helping keep the international spotlight on Bangladesh. This is no easy feat as headline fatigue sets in and crises flare elsewhere. Canada has committed $300 million over the next three years in support of a strategy built around four main pillars: humanitarian response, political improvements on the Myanmar side, justice and accountability, and expanding international cooperation.

There are a lot of important issues on this week’s G7 Summit agenda. But there is rare window of opportunity open right now to move toward a solution on the Rohingya crisis, and that window may soon close. Canada can help secure the commitment of world powers to bring solutions to bear that support the Rohingya’s right to return voluntarily, in dignity and safety, to Myanmar. The UN made clear just last week such conditions do not currently exist. Canada should also lead in rallying international support for a more robust response that addresses refugee and Bangladeshi community needs.

In the face of a massive influx of refugees, Bangladesh did not close its borders. Rather, Bangladesh welcomed the Rohingya. But hosting refugees comes with some near-term costs. For example, host communities are worried about alarming rates of deforestation and strains on the health system.

G7 countries and other partners must recognize the global responsibility Bangladesh has taken on, and increase support for refugees and host communities alike. One promising approach was piloted through the Jordan Compact—an agreement between the Jordanian government, World Bank, European Union (EU), and others—focused on driving growth and job creation for all of Jordan. The Jordan Compact secured significant international support, including trade concessions and up to $1.8 billion in financing. These investments were paired with opportunities for refugees to access legal employment. While far from perfect, this Compact set a precedent for international cooperation led by the host government. Bangladesh can build on lessons learned from Jordan, such as what policy shifts need to happen first to maximize economic wins for refugees and Bangladeshis.

Drawing on experience in Jordan, Canada can help forge a Solidarity Compact for Bangladesh. Such a compact could bring together responsibility-sharing commitments that range from trade concessions, private investment, and enhanced labor migration opportunities to development and climate financing. Beyond traditional donors, regional actors such as China, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and its members, and Gulf countries should be engaged across this range of potential commitments. A compact must also include a protection framework for Rohingyas that provides the rights and opportunities they are entitled to under international humanitarian law, and that delivers benefits for Rohingya refugees and Bangladeshi populations alike.

The G7 Summit can be an opportunity to advance the rights and opportunities of one of the most vulnerable populations in the world, while also supporting Bangladesh’s development trajectory. Beyond a statement of commitment toward sustained support, the G7 can be a critical forum for starting the conversation with Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who will be in Charlevoix, on what a Solidarity Compact could include and beginning the process to move it from concept to reality.  


CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.

Image credit for social media/web: Social media image by UN Women/Allison Joyce