The U.N. refugee agency has welcomed the European Commission's (EC) donation of 3.9 million euros (over USD $ 5.7 million) over the next two years to end the plight of refugees from Burma languishing in the southeastern part of Bangladesh over a long period of time.
The contribution agreement was signed in the capital, Dhaka on Thursday by Phiri and Ambassador Stefan Frowein, Head of the EC delegation in Bangladesh.
"This contribution-more than doubles the amount the EC gave in 2006-07-and underlines just how serious the European Community is about helping UNHCR (United Nations High Commission for Refugees) and the government of Bangladesh to bring to an end the protracted plight of these refugees," said UNHCR Representative for Bangladesh, Pia Prytz Phiri.
The EC has long been the largest donor to UNHCR's operations in Bangladesh, which cost $ 54 million since the arrival of the Rohingya refugees from Burma in 1991 and 1992, according to the UNHCR.
Most of the Muslim refugees from northern Rakhine state went back home to western Burma soon after seeking refuge in Bangladesh, but 27,000 remain in two refugee camps - Nayapara and Kutupalong – near Cox's Bazaar district of Bangladesh.
"The money of course allows us to provide the daily necessities for refugees in the camps," Phiri said. "And we are especially grateful that the EC speeded up the process so that we will be able to spend this money from January, without any delays."
With the backing of the EC and other donors, the UNHCR won an agreement from the Bangladesh government for significant improvements over the past year in the two camps, Nayapara and Kutupalong, which had been among the worst in the world, the UN agency said in a press statement.
New shelters are being constructed for all the refugees, another grade has been added to the informal education system, and the national school curriculum is being introduced, the statement said, adding that the UNHCR, with its partners, has also been able to provide literacy training for adults, enhanced skills training and improved medical care in the two camps.
"But just as important has been the solidarity of the European Community in working together with UNHCR and other donors to help the Bangladesh government find lasting solutions for the refugees. It's clear to everyone that these people cannot go on living in refugee camps forever," Phiri observed.
Worldwide, the EC is UNHCR's third-largest donor, having contributed more than $79 million to the agency's global budget of $1.45 billion in 2007.