Brutal cuts to UK aid will leave about 70,000 people without health services and 100,000 without water in Cox’s Bazar, the world’s largest refugee camp, ministers have been warned.
A private letter sent to the Foreign Office minister for Asia by a group of aid agencies working in the area last week emerged ahead of a crunch vote on Monday, designed to force ministers into guaranteeing the restoration of UK aid to 0.7 per cent of gross national income next year.
Boris Johnson is facing a major Commons rebellion over his controversial plans to slash foreign aid, with former prime minister Theresa May backing a growing bid by Tory rebels to force the prime minister into a u-turn.
Conservative former chief whip Andrew Mitchell is leading a parliamentary push to ensure new legislation makes up the shortfall left by the cut to the UK’s official development assistance.
Up to 30 Tory backbenchers, including former foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt and ex-aid minister Sir Desmond Swayne, have backed the amendment so far.
May’s former deputy Damian Green and Johnny Mercer, who recently resigned as defence minister, also added their names to an amendment.
The letter to Nigel Adams, the Asia minister, on the plight of refugees in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, most of whom have fled brutal repression in Myanmar, underlines the impacts of Johnson’s controversial cuts.
“The 42 per cent cuts represent a staggering reduction in light of government statements, and the current reality faced by those in Cox’s Bazar,” the letter – seen by the Guardian – says.
“After the publication of the integrated review, NGOs were assured that Bangladesh was an important part of the ‘Indo-Pacific tilt’. Just last year as the UK cosponsored a global conference to mobilise resources, the foreign secretary urged the world ‘not to turn away from Rohingyas’ suffering’.”
It outlines two primary impacts of the cuts. “First, it will significantly undermine efforts to address humanitarian needs in Cox’s Bazar. While risks to refugees have been rising, funding for the response has been in decline since last year when key sectors prioritised by the UK including water and sanitation, gender-based violence (GBV), shelter and education were between 80% and 92% underfunded”.
The second is a likely increase in coronavirus infections in the camps. Johnson will this week urge G7 leaders to “defeat Covid” by vaccinating the world by the end of next year, as he pushes for a global watch system to catch new variants before they can plunge countries back into lockdown.
However no refugees in Cox’s Bazar have been vaccinated against coronavirus. While there has been no major outbreak so far, the letter warns “the security situation in the camps has dramatically deteriorated, access to education and livelihoods remains highly constrained risking a lost generation of children, while evidence indicates that cases of GBV are rising.
“This year has also seen a 300 per cent increase in fires destroying homes of tens of thousands of refugees. In response, an increasing number of people are turning to smugglers and risking their lives to get out of the camps.”
The government has blamed economic damage caused by the Covid-19 pandemic for its aid decision. It expects just under £10 billion to be allocated to departments for aid spending in 2021/22.
Critics of the policy believe the cut will result in tens of thousands of deaths in other parts of the world.
Shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy wrote on Twitter: “On Monday, just days before world leaders arrive in Cornwall to discuss the global response to the pandemic, the Government faces defeat over its short-sighted and self-defeating decision to slash aid.
“The Conservatives should do the right thing and reverse this cut.”