The world must know Rohingyas story; must show them solidarity

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UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres and World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim, during their meeting with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, presenting a photograph of Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman – PID

Myanmar feeling the pinch of pressure

The Rohingyas are one of the most discriminated and vulnerable communities on the earth. The Rohingya crisis, obviously, is a humanitarian and human rights nightmare. Bangladesh witnessed a number of high-profile visits in the outgoing week including that of United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres when the international community is exploring ways to resolve Rohingya crisis beyond bilateral mechanism.

International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) President Peter Maurer, Minister of State for Asia and the Pacific at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Mark Field, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi and UK Special Envoy for Gender Equality Joanna Roper visited Rohingya camps in the same week while UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar Yanghee Lee is still in Dhaka on a ten-day visit.

The Secretary‑General and the World Bank Group President met with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina apart from other engagements and conveyed her that Bangladesh has done a great service for the world. The UN chief and the WB President commended the Prime Minister for the generosity Bangladesh has shown. “By hosting the Rohingya, Bangladesh has done a great service for the world. We will support this effort any way we can,” WB President Kim said.

In Cox’s Bazar, the UN chief along with World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim heard “unimaginable” accounts of killing and rape from Rohingya refugees who recently fled Myanmar. The Rohingyas made it clear to them that they want justice and a safe return to their own homes in Myanmar.

The UN says safety of the Rohingya refugees during this monsoon season is the priority one. “As many as 200,000 Rohingyas need to be relocated. We cannot allow the monsoons to wash away the hopes of the Rohingya refugees I met in Bangladesh,” said the UN chief after visiting Rohingya camp in Cox’s Bazar district.

UN Secretary General Guterres rightly said nothing could have prepared him for the scale of crisis and extent of suffering he saw in Cox’s Bazar. He heard “heartbreaking” accounts from Rohingya refugees that will stay with him forever.

Accountability

UN Secretary General Guterres laid emphasis on persistent commitment from the international community and put pressure on Myanmar very strongly in a united way to help Rohingyas go to their own homes safely.

“We need both accountability and political solution creating the conditions for the people to be able to have a normal life in their own country,” he told a joint press conference while responding to a question from UNB on July 2.

It was made it very clear that we need international community to unite and very strongly put pressure on Myanmar authorities to recognise these needs including addressing citizenship issue. The Myanmar government cannot ignore other basic rights of Rohingyas.

The UN chief thinks there is a clear will within the Security Council to ask Myanmar to create the conditions for safe return of Rohingyas to their own homes in Myanmar. “I have no doubt that Security Council is united in requesting Myanmar to create conditions for return of Rohingyas,” he said acknowledging UNSC remained divided in previous occasions on various issues including Syria. 

Asked whether there was any deal with Myanmar ignoring the citizenship issue, the UN Secretary General said there was no such agreement.

“There is no agreement between UN and Myanmar that these people should not be called Rohingyas. For the UN they are called Rohingyas, for Myanmar they are called Bengali Muslims. “This disagreement exists.”

Asked whether the UN is compromising on citizenship issue, the UN chief said it is very clear that they are Rohingyas and it is not compromise rather it is a clear demonstration that they are not agreed.

Elaborating about political solution, Guterres said political solution is clear - to create conditions for the people to be able to return in safety and dignity in their places of origin or places they might choose having all the rights, normal lives, also addressing the issue of citizenship.

To make that happen, the UN chief said this requires “very persistent commitment” of the international community.

On question of accountability, Guterres said the UN Security Council fact finding missions visited Bangladesh and Myanmar and there will be new report very soon.

He also referred the International Criminal Court (ICC) as Bangladesh already responded to its request.

Step up supports

UN chief Guterres called upon the international community to step up efforts to help Rohingyas living in Bangladesh. “My appeal to the int’l community is to step up support,” he said.

The solidarity expressed by the international community has not been translated into sufficient support to the Rohingya people of Myanmar in Bangladesh, with the nearly $1 billion appeal only 26 per cent funded.

Speaking at a press conference in Cox’s Bazar, the Secretary General said that it is impossible to visit the camps without being heartbroken over the suffering of the Rohingya people.  He said he had listened to terrible stories of massive violence — of killings, rape, torture, and houses or villages burnt. And he added that it is also terrible to see more than 900,000 people living in terrible circumstances.

The Secretary‑General said he was extremely grateful to World Bank President Kim for mobilising the World Bank and said he expected the World Bank to announce an extremely important contribution to the Rohingya refugees and to the local community.

The World Bank earlier announced close to half-a-billion dollars in grant-based support to help Bangladesh address the needs of Rohingya refugees in areas such as health, education, water and sanitation, disaster risk management, and social protection.

Reflecting the increasingly protracted nature of the Rohingya crisis, the World Bank Board of Directors approved a $50 million additional grant to an existing Health Sector Support Project in Bangladesh that is the first in a series that could total as much as $480 million.

Since August last year, more than 700,000 Rohingya have taken shelter from violence in Myanmar in the Cox’s Bazar district, making it the world’s largest and fastest growing refugee camp, and putting pressure on the environment, existing infrastructure, and social services that were already constrained.

Today we’re all Rohingyas

Shortly after visiting Rohingyas in Cox’s Bazar district, visiting World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim on Monday said they are all Rohingyas today.

“I am extremely humbled and moved by the courage of the #Rohingya. We cannot turn our heads away. We stand in solidarity -- today we are all Rohingya,” he said.

Kim said this is a very special situation and under exceptional circumstances, they have decided to provide about half a billion dollars to Bangladesh in grants for Rohingyas and host communities.

“This was the right thing to do,” he said, adding that it was really UN chief’s inspiration that led the WB Group to work in humanitarian responses, especially around the issue of refugees when he was UN refugee commissioner.

About their visit to Rohingya camps, the WB chief said those stories were absolutely appalling and they need to support Rohingyas even more.

“This is a good start. We need to do lot more support,” he said adding that now is the time all the people who have good faith and good will to step up and support the efforts.

Responding to a question, the WB chief said they are very open to support in Myanmar to create conditions for Rohingya to go back.

Bangladesh cut poverty in half between 1991 and 2016 and in the process created more opportunities for its people. The World Bank Group continues to support Bangladesh’s progress on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with record lending of more than $3.5 billion this year.

UK for maximum pressure

The United Kingdom has said they along with its international partners will continue to put ‘maximum pressure’ on Myanmar to ensure justice for Rohingyas.

“We want to see Rohingyas are allowed to return to Myanmar (from Bangladesh) in a voluntary, safe and dignified manner,” Minister of State for Asia and the Pacific at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Mark Field told a small group of reporters, including the UNB correspondent.

Following the World Refugee Day on June 20 and with the monsoon season just beginning, the UK called on the international community to step up support for the refugees and their host communities. The UK is leading the way with £129 million of aid already given, he said.

The British Minister of State said they are working in an effective way and will continue to do what they can to hold perpetrators accountable.

Terming Rohingya crisis a major humanitarian crisis, Mark Field said he will be visiting Rohingya camps on Saturday. “I’ll be happy to see how the UK and UN agencies are making the difference.”

He highly appreciated Bangladesh’s generous support to Rohingyas living in Bangladesh.

“The international community is incredibly grateful to Bangladesh for welcoming over a million of Rohingyas.”

Mark Field said they are also incredibly grateful to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in this regard. “I’m looking forward to seeing how the UK aid is helping improve their lives.”

He laid emphasis on stepping up support for Rohingyas during monsoon. “The UK is leading the way. We stand ready to do much more.”

Mark Field said the reports of human rights violation in Rakhine State of Myanmar are truly terrific.

The British Minister said the UK will continue to put pressure within the international community to ensure that justice is done.

“Bangladesh is dealing with a major humanitarian crisis not of its making and it’s vital the international community works with Bangladesh to step up support for the refugees and their host communities, especially during this monsoon season,” Mark Field said.

Joanna Roper said the UK is determined to be a world leader in advocating for gender equality internationally and it is all too often women and girls who are the greatest victims in a humanitarian crisis like this – whether as a result of sexual violence, or loss of access to education, and they must not be ignored.

Responsible leadership

Recognising the progress made so far, International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) President Peter Maurer on Tuesday laid emphasis on “responsible leadership” to resolve the Rohingya crisis and help Rohingyas go back to their homeland with all their rights.

 “Today, there is recognition that there is a problem and this problem needs to be fixed,” he told reporters mentioning that he saw a positive recognition from Myanmar authorities during his meeting with them.

Though there are positive steps, they are certainly not at the point yet where they wanted to be with conditions conducive to safe return of Rohingyas.

“The ICRC will continue to play its part in responding to this humanitarian crisis in both Myanmar and Bangladesh,” said Maurer who travelled to both sides of the border – to the northern parts of Rakhine State where people had fled violence in huge numbers to the camps of Cox’s Bazar.

Conditions to return will require not only humanitarian and mitigating activities, but also effective political steps towards ensuring freedom of movement; access to basic services; freedom to undertake economic activity and access to markets in Rakhine; and most importantly trust in security arrangements for returnees.

“In both countries I visited I was moved by the stories about the impacts of ICRC’s work for individuals and communities over the decades, from detention visits to healthcare to humanitarian negotiations and diplomacy,” Maurer said.

The ICRC President met Myanmar President Win Myint, State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, and Senior General Commander-in-Chief of the Defence Services Min Aung Hlaing, as well as Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

 “I cannot claim that life for those in Rakhine State is significantly better. In this remote, rarely-visited area, we drove through the areas where villages once stood. Little remains now, and the vegetation is rapidly reclaiming the land. In other parts, former schools and health centres stand empty,” he said.

The ICRC President said humanitarian assistance alone will not solve this problem. “A better future for the people here will need inclusive political solutions, environmentally sustainable economic investment and a strong commitment to international humanitarian law and human rights.”

Feeling the pinch of pressure

The number of high-profile visits to Bangladesh including that of United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres, indicate that Myanmar is under ‘another spell of pressure’ from the international community over Rohingya issue.

“Absolutely, this is kind of a pressure on Myanmar. The international pressure is mounting giving some results. Myanmar is feeling the pinch,” Distinguished Professor at Illinois State University, USA Ali Riaz told UNB.

He referred that the under pressure Myanmar military recently dismissed a general who is alleged to have led a brutal campaign against Rohingya Muslims in August last.

The United States also strongly supported the actions taken by Canada and European Union partners to continue the promotion of accountability for the atrocities in Myanmar.

“So, pressure on Myanmar through current (high profile) visits is visible. We need to look at how this pressure works,” Prof Riaz who is now in Dhaka said.

Union Minister for the Myanmar State Counsellor’s Office Kyaw Tint Swe and Bangladesh Foreign Minister AH Mahmood Ali visited Beijing and they had a meeting there on Friday.

Asked about such meeting, Prof Riaz said China wants to show its ‘presence’ as far what has been done on bilateral front is based on Chinese formula.

“China’s position is consistent. We always believe that the relevant issue should be resolved through the dialogue and negotiation between Myanmar and Bangladesh, and the international community can play a constructive role in light of the will of the two countries,” said Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Lu Kang in Beijing on Friday.

State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi had a tea break with the two visiting ministers from Bangladesh and Myanmar when they exchanged views on properly resolving the issue of the Rakhine State. “I can tell you that the atmosphere was candid, sincere, light and friendly,” Lu Kang said.

The UN Secretary General and WB President met Rohingya women and girls who suffered horrific acts of sexual violence in Myanmar - some now mothers to babies born of rape. “They must not be forgotten victims. The world must know their story. We must show them solidarity,” Guterres says while ending his Bangladesh visit.

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