Dhaka Courier

Angelina Jolie among the Rohingya: The ultimate test of star-power

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The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) special envoy, US actress, film-maker Angelina Jolie talks to media during a press conference after her visit to Kutupalong camp for Rohingya refugees in Teknuf, Cox’s bazar in Bangladesh, 05 Feb 2019. (Photo: AP)

‘Bangladesh can’t be left to shoulder responsibility of hosting Rohingyas alone’

UNHCR special envoy and famous Hollywood actress Angelina Jolie on Tuesday urged the Myanmar authorities to show the genuine commitment to end the cycle of violence, displacement, and improve the conditions for all communities in Rakhine State, including Rohingyas.

“While UNHCR is ready to support efforts to improve conditions, there has been very little progress on the ground. The Rohingya cannot return to Myanmar at this time,” she said at a media briefing at Kutupalong Rohingya camp.

Until Rohingyas can return, Jolie said, they have a collective responsibility to ensure that they can live a dignified life here in Bangladesh.

Jolie said Bangladesh is a generous country rich in culture and history, but with limited resources, and it cannot be left to shoulder the responsibility of hosting Rohingyas alone.

“So, I urge the international community to continue to provide the humanitarian aid necessary to meet the needs of the refugees and support the communities so generously hosting them,” she said.

Jolie said Rohingyas have every right to live in security, to be free to practise their religion and coexist with people of other faiths and ethnicities. “You’ve every right not to be stateless, and the way you have been treated shames us all.”

She said a test and measure of any government is how they treat the most vulnerable people in society, and how they treat those who stand up for the vulnerable and speak out for the atrocities committed against them.

“The people responsible for human rights violations must be held accountable for their actions,” said the UNHCR special envoy.

She laid emphasis on implementation of the recommendations of the Rakhine Advisory Commission and working together with UNHCR and others.

The Rohingya families she has met are no different from other refugees in one crucial respect - they want to be able to return home.

“And they’ve an absolute right to return home, but only when they feel safe enough to do so voluntarily and they know that their rights will be respected,” said the UNHCR special envoy.

She met a woman on Monday, a survivor of rape in Myanmar, and she told Jolie, “You would have to shoot me where I stand before I go back without my rights.”

The UNHCR envoy said the responsibility to ensure those rights and make it possible for the Rohingya people to return to Rakhine State lies squarely with the government and the authorities in Myanmar.

“So, I hope they’ll recognise that this issue won’t go away, just as we won’t turn away from the Rohingya,” she said.

Jolie said she visited Rohingya camps to see what more can be done to ensure Rohingya children can gain education with recognised qualifications that they need to retain a clear vision for their futures, and, when conditions allow, rebuild their communities in Myanmar.

“I also met some of the many survivors of sexual and gender-based violence, including mass rape. Nearly two years after the beginning of this emergency, there’s still a worrying gap in psychosocial services available for refugee survivors. This gap urgently needs to be addressed,” she said.

Jolie said the Rohingya crisis is emblematic of a much wider problem but it is also a powerful example of what happens when people around the world, and across societies, come together in response to a cause greater than themselves.

The actress arrived in Cox’s Bazar on Monday morning to assess the humanitarian needs of the Rohingyas in her role as UNHCR special envoy.

Bangladesh is now hosting nearly 1.3 million Rohingyas. The majority of Rohingyas -- more than 620,000 people -- live in just one area: Kutupalong, the largest refugee settlement anywhere in the world today.

The special envoy will conclude her Bangladesh visit after holding official meetings with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen as well as other senior officials in Dhaka on Wednesday.

During the meetings, she will discuss how UNHCR can best support the current response led by the Bangladesh government, along with the need for safe and sustainable solutions to the plight of one of the world's most persecuted minorities, UNHCR said.

Her visit came just before the launch of a new appeal for the humanitarian situation in Bangladesh -- the 2019 Joint Response Plan -- which seeks to raise some $920 million to continue meeting the basic needs of Rohingyas and the communities hosting them.

Bangladesh has been heavily affected by the influx of more than 730,000 Rohingyas from Myanmar since August 2017 and now hosts nearly a million refugees, said the UN refugee agency.

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