Dhaka Courier

Entire region unites to tell Myanmar: ‘Repatriate Rohingya’

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US Deputy Secretary of State Stephen E. Biegun speaks at a media briefing in the capital city. Photo: Courtesy

Every major country in Indo-Pacific should be speaking with equal outspokenness, says US

The United States has sought an equal role from Myanmar's all neighbours with "broad and unified voice" so that Rohingyas can get the confidence back to return to their homeland without any fear of further deportation.

"We need every single one of Myanmar's neighbours [to have that done]," said US Deputy Secretary of State Stephen E Biegun while responding to a Dhaka Courier question at a recent roundtable discussion with a select group of journalists in Dhaka.

Myanmar is bordered by Bangladesh and India to its northwest, China to its northeast, Laos and Thailand to its east and southeast, and the Andaman Sea and the Bay of Bengal to its south and southwest.

He encouraged all Myanmar's neighbours to be quite clear about the expectations they all have regarding the treatment of Rohingya people and creation of a safe environment to help Rohingyas return to their homes.

Biegun made it clear that this is not simply the responsibility of the government of Bangladesh, as generous as that government has been.

"This is a global priority and one that every major country in the Indo-Pacific should be speaking with equal outspokenness to the government of Myanmar to take the steps necessary to ease this crisis," he said adding that they need to find out every possible means.

Biegun laid emphasis on international cooperation and collaboration staying outspoken like the US so that Myanmar makes sure Rohingyas will no longer be mistreated and they have confidence to start returning to the Rakhine State.

The Deputy Secretary of State said the US has been "quite outspoken" and used its "political influence" as much as possible to influence decisions inside Myanmar regarding the treatment and restoration of rights of these people.

He emphasised that this requires a regional and a global response. "All countries need to work together shoulder to shoulder."

Biegun said they very much agreed with the government of Bangladesh that a solution needs to be found to restore the rights and right of return of the people who are currently in camps in Cox's Bazar.

"We’ve to meet their immediate humanitarian needs, but we also have to redouble our efforts in the international community to reach a long-term solution," he said.

During his recent visit, the US Deputy Secretary of State discussed the challenges and ways to get a permanent solution so that the government of Bangladesh and the people of Bangladesh do not permanently have to carry the weight of this on their own shoulders.

"The United States, of course, has been a very supportive partner. We’ll be raising a substantial amount of additional humanitarian assistance together as we seek to work for a more permanent solution to the resolution of that crisis," Biegun said.

Role of China

China remains engaged with Bangladesh to find a sustainable solution to Rohingya crisis. However, the United States said China has done "very little" to help resolve the Rohingya issue though much more should be expected considering the proximity to China of this humanitarian catastrophe.

"We hope that we see the same level of generosity and the same level of clarity in messages to the government of Myanmar from other partners or other nations in the Indo-Pacific, particularly China, who unfortunately has done very little to help resolve the Rohingya issue and for whom much more should be expected, considering the proximity," said Biegun in a telephonic briefing from Washington.

Biegun said they certainly need to work in concert with all the countries in the region.

He said the United States recognises that a long-term refugee population is not an option.

"We’re going to work with equal urgency both to address the humanitarian needs of this population but also to find a lasting resolution," Biegun said adding that they will work closely with the government of Bangladesh.

The Deputy Secretary of State spent quite a bit of time discussing with the government the status and fate of the more than 800,000 refugees from Rakhine State, who have taken refuge in Bangladesh after having been subjected to unacceptable violence and brutality in Myanmar.

"I had a chance to thank Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina for the generosity of the Bangladeshi people and the support of the Bangladeshi government in providing refuge for these displaced people," he said.

Biegun also discussed with the Prime Minister as well as Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen how they can cooperate together in order to try to find a resolution of this issue.

Bangladesh wants the presence of Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi in a proposed a tripartite meeting to discuss Rohingya repatriation issues in Beijing.

"It won't be done without her presence. She should be there," said Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen.

Though Suu Kyi, the State Counsellor of Myanmar, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and she has been widely criticised for doing nothing to stop rape, murder and genocide in Rakhine by refusing to condemn the powerful military or acknowledge accounts of atrocities.

The Foreign Minister said the number one objective of Bangladesh is to see the repatriation of Rohingyas to their place of origin in Rakhine State.

The Foreign Minister said Rohingyas will "jeopardise regional and international security" if the 1.1 million Rohingya people are left unattended and not given the opportunity to return to their homeland.

Donors Conference

The United States, the European Union, the United Kingdom, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees cohosted a donor conference on October 22 to promote support for Rohingya refugees and host countries.

Biegun said the United States is proud to stand with the UK, the EU, and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees as partners in leading this call to sustain the international crisis response to assist Rohingya refugees and other displaced people, as well as strengthen investment in affected host communities.

"As the world’s most generous donor, we’re a catalyst for the international humanitarian response and call on others to contribute to this cause – both longstanding partners as well as new and aspiring donors," he said.

The conference was seen as an opportunity for the cohosts to reiterate that any sustainable solution to this crisis must include the voluntary, safe, dignified, and sustainable return of Rohingya refugees and other displaced people to their homes or to a place of their choosing.

There is a significant funding gap in the international response to the crisis this year, with contributions to date covering less than half of what is needed.

The 2020 Joint Response Plan (JRP) for the Rohingya humanitarian crisis is so far 48.2 percent funded and remains vital to sustain lifesaving preparedness and response efforts for extreme weather events, which have become more challenging during the Covid-19 pandemic, says the United Nations.

The UN has appealed for more than $1 billion in aid to meet the humanitarian needs of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh this year, but so far less than half has been contributed. This leaves a significant funding gap, made worse by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Don't Turn Away

The United Kingdom has urged the global community not to “turn away from Rohingya’s suffering” as the UK pledges life-saving support.

"Today I urge the world not to turn away from the Rohingya’s suffering and to take the action necessary to allow them to safely return to the homes they fled in terror," said British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab on October 22.

The UK announced £47.5million new UK aid to support 860,000 Rohingyas and help Bangladesh deal with coronavirus and natural disasters, according to Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDC).

This extra support came just ahead of a pledging conference co-hosted by the UK, US, EU and UNCHR today and follows UK sanctions on perpetrators of violence against the Rohingya people.

At the conference, FCDO Minister for South Asia and the Commonwealth Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon reiterated that steps must be taken to work towards the voluntary, safe and dignified return of the Rohingya to their homes in Myanmar.

Some 860,000 Rohingya live in overcrowded camps in Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh, without formal education or work opportunities. Coronavirus has made the situation in the packed and unsanitary camps even more desperate.

This new funding announced by the Foreign Secretary will provide hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people with food, healthcare, water and sanitation, as well as care and counselling for those traumatised by the violence they have experienced.

It will also improve access to education for 50,000 young people, as well as create isolation and treatment centres for people suffering from coronavirus.

Alongside this, the UK aid package will support communities in Bangladesh, as the country hosting the highest number of Rohingya refugees.

It will strengthen its health system to respond to COVID-19 and continue the UK’s support to help Bangladesh become more resilient to natural disasters such as flooding.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the people living in Cox’s Bazar face unimaginable hardship and many have been victims of violence.

"We have imposed sanctions on the perpetrators of this brutality, and this new funding will save lives in the camp and help Bangladesh become more resilient to disasters such as coronavirus," Raab said.

The UN has estimated it needs $1billion this year to help Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh but so far less than half of that has been raised.

In August 2017, hundreds of thousands of Rohingya left the country to escape brutal and systematic violence.

Since then, the UK has sanctioned two generals in the Myanmar military, as recommended by a UN independent investigation, which found them responsible for atrocities which amount to ethnic cleansing.

In addition to the Rohingya refugees living in Bangladesh, up to 150,000 are living in other countries in the region and an estimated 600,000 live in Myanmar’s Rakhine State.

Repatriation attempts failed twice in November 2018 and August 2019 amid Rohingyas' "lack of trust" in the Myanmar government.

Bangladesh and Myanmar signed the repatriation deal on November 23, 2017.

On January 16, 2018, Bangladesh and Myanmar signed a document on “Physical Arrangement”, which was supposed to facilitate the return of Rohingyas to their homeland.

  • Stephen E Biegun
  • US Deputy Secretary of State
  • Rakhine
  • Covid-19
  • Rohingya

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