Shared responsibility to ensure Rohingya isn’t a forgotten crisis: UN

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UN Resident Coordinator in Bangladesh Mia Seppo. Photo: Collected

World needs journalists more than ever, says Mia Seppo

UN Resident Coordinator in Bangladesh Mia Seppo has said it is a “shared responsibility” of the international community to make sure that the Rohingya crisis is not a forgotten one as the world faces more crises.

“Making sure that the Rohingya crisis doesn’t become a forgotten crisis is a shared responsibility. Obviously, the government of Bangladesh through its foreign policy is doing a lot to make sure that the crisis is not forgotten,” said the UN official while responding to questions at an event titled “DCAB Talk.”

She recognised that Bangladesh has played a critical role in a “defining tragedy” of their time despite challenges of its own and mentioned that they are at the final stage to begin its operations at Bhasan Char to support the Rohingyas and the massive efforts of the government of Bangladesh.

Recognizing Bangladesh’s massive investment in Bhasan Char, Mia said there has been, rather, a lot of negative coverage about Bhasan Char and it is important that they have somehow managed to move away from that.

She said they want to be partners in trying to create something so that everybody can live and the conversation that they are having now is important.

Regarding the proposed Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to engage in Bhasan Char, Mia said there are protections and humanitarian imperatives and they are obviously looking to support the massive efforts of the government in Bhasan Char.

“We’re also looking to really work with those Bangladeshi NGOs who are already in Bhasan Char and providing services,” she said, indicating that they will be joining this partnership as soon as they have agreed on the MoU.

Mia indicated that this will be a little bit different from their role in Cox’s Bazar as what she says the history of these two is a bit different.

Responding to a question on the World Bank and the Refugee Policy Review, the UN official said that is a bit of “misunderstanding” and noted that it is not about integration but social cohesion. “You have to distinguish the global policy and the Bangladesh policy.”

The World Bank says it is helping Bangladesh address the needs of the displaced Rohingya population until their safe and voluntary return to Myanmar. It is also supporting Bangladesh to minimise the impact of the influx on the host communities.

“The World Bank has a funding window for refugees and it’s a global window,” said the UN Resident Coordinator in Bangladesh, adding that the government of Bangladesh is very clear about its policy in terms of how to manage this crisis.

Mia said Bangladesh, the international community and the Rohingyas have a common vision and the solution to the Rohingya crisis lies with Myanmar.

The most viable and durable solution is the voluntary repatriation of the refugees in safety, dignity and in a sustainable manner, she said.

The UN official said the host communities who have borne the brunt of the influx are being supported significantly through development and humanitarian mechanisms. “This will continue in the years ahead but we recognize even more is needed.”

Globally, she said, efforts continue to strengthen diplomatic efforts to restore stability in Myanmar and the UNSG’s Special Envoy continues to seek national consultations to find resolution to the crisis. “However, the situation is even more complex after February 1, 2021 (military coup).”

Four years ago, Myanmar’s military launched a horrific “ethnic cleansing” against the Rohingya in northern Rakhine State.  The brutality of the military’s atrocities on that day shocked the conscience of the international community.

Bangladesh had handed over a list of 840,000 Rohingyas to Myanmar for verification but the verification process by the Myanmar side was very slow, Dhaka says.

Repatriation attempt 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.

Climate: No Longer a Looming Crisis

Mia Seppo has said the climate crisis is no longer a looming one but it is widespread, rapid and intensifying.

“Few countries know this better than Bangladesh,” she said, adding that this pressing issue (climate crisis) will play a central role in the current session of the UN General Assembly.

Mia said the recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is a code red for humanity.

But it also made clear that it is not too late to meet the Paris Agreement 1.5 degree target. “We’ve the tools to achieve this target but we are rapidly running out of time,” said the UN Resident Coordinator.

Countries like Bangladesh have not historically contributed to the problem but are bearing the brunt of its consequences, with the most vulnerable being hardest hit, she said. While the global outlook is dire, Mia said, the impact on the Asia Pacific is particularly alarming.

Sea-level rise is reportedly occurring faster than the global average and the region is predicted to experience more intensive heat waves and heavier rainfall in the decades to come, said the UN official.

Moreover, with the majority of the world’s poor in the Asia Pacific, the impacts of climate change threaten to push millions more into poverty and hardship, she said.

For Bangladesh, Mia said, the IPCC predicts more frequent high-intensity cyclones and storm surges they create, which are particularly devastating for already-vulnerable coastal regions undermining livelihood security, food and water security, and fuelling internal displacement and migration.

She said climate change threatens to increase the level of poverty and inequality, pushing poorer Bangladeshis into situations of protracted economic uncertainty.

And as urban migration increases in the years to come, Mia said, public infrastructure will be put under further stress, creating a host of social protection concerns for those already at risk.

According to a recent report, sea-level rise alone is predicted to submerge 17 percent of the country by 2050, leaving approximately 20 million people homeless.

Mia said this does not take into the account the millions more who will be forcibly displaced by extreme weather events or the slow-onset impacts of climate change, such as saltwater intrusion.

In line with continued global leadership on climate advocacy, the UN official acknowledged that Bangladesh, as the chair of the Climate Vulnerable Forum, has made a similar plea for greater recognition of the cross-cutting impacts of climate change on human rights, peace and justice.

Mia hoped that Bangladesh will use the expertise for advancing the human rights, climate and environmental justice agenda domestically, too.

Electoral Assistance

The UN Resident Coordinator in Bangladesh said the United Nations (UN) will provide electoral assistance to Bangladesh only if there is any request on that particular front.

“The UN doesn’t provide electoral assistance unless we’re asked to provide,” she said, adding that the whole process depends on requests for electoral assistance but the UN does not just step in on its own.

UNRC Mia said the UN stands ready to support under the framework of cooperation if there is any request forthcoming.

The UNRC said there are some areas where the UN is “concerned” about and some of them applicable for many countries.

“We’re concerned about increasing violence against women, we’re concerned about growing inequalities – it’s a global concern. We’re also concerned about signs of shrinking civic space. Again it’s a global concern,” Mia said, adding that they hope that the review of the DSA will indeed improve that situation in Bangladesh.

Globally at the moment, she said, there is a big concern around shrinking civic space and that applies to so many countries.

“I don’t think for any country that aspires to be a democracy that helps it. We obviously encourage protecting the civic space,” Mia said, mentioning that it should be part of all the efforts to make sure Covid recovery is inclusive.

She said they have to recognise that protecting human rights is very much “collective responsibility” and the media have a responsibility in making sure that stories do not stigmatize the victims but spot issues of concern by protecting the privacy of the victims.

Mia said a review of the DSA is one of the UPR (Universal Periodic Review (UPR) recommendations that actually was supported by Bangladesh making sure that the law is compliant with the international human rights standard.

She mentioned that they have had some good discussions with the Law Minister in particular and the UN stands ready to help on that front to avoid its misuse.

The UN official said Covid-19 pandemic has amplified the challenges of inequality, achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and gender disparity.

As Bangladesh graduated from the LDC status, it will have opportunities but also face the challenges of inequality, which needs to be addressed very effectively, Mia said.

She said there is no development without peace and no peace without development; and sustaining peace is a continuous process.

Mia said national and social cohesion must be sensitively managed to strengthen relationships of trust among the Bangladeshis.

She said the media's action and reporting can engender either social cohesion or mistrust and divisions among communities and people. “Media reports can give rise to resentment, suspicion and conspiracy theories.

Power of Pen

The UN Resident Coordinator in Bangladesh said the world needs journalists more than ever to bring out the truth while effectively dealing with the life-threatening misinformation.

“It’s ironic that in a moment with most access to information there’s an avalanche of life-threatening misinformation out there,” she said.

The UN official said the journalists have the responsibility to bring out truth, spread science-based facts that save lives, protect people and ensure rights. “That’s the power of your pen. Use that power as a force for good.”

Mia said reports from journalists can help educate and clarify perceptions; as well as reconcile people and inspire patriotism.

“You possess great potential to reinforce and create conditions that enable a more tolerant, just, peaceful and inclusive coexistence,” she said.

Mia laid emphasis on enhancing capacities in conflict-sensitive reporting and play a more active and prominent role in driving media excellence and conflict-sensitive reporting for sustainable peace.

She said there is no development without peace and no peace without development; and sustaining peace is a continuous process.

Mia said national and social cohesion must be sensitively managed to strengthen relationships of trust among Bangladeshis.

She said the media's action and reporting can engender either social cohesion or mistrust and divisions among communities and people. “Media reports can give a rise to resentment, suspicion and conspiracy theories.”

Diplomatic Correspondents Association, Bangladesh (DCAB) arranged the DCAB Talk at the Foreign Service Academy. DCAB President Pantho Rahaman and its General Secretary AKM Moinuddin also spoke.

  • Diplomatic Correspondents Association, Bangladesh (DCAB)
  • Myanmar
  • Mia Seppo
  • Crisis
  • Climate Change
  • Rohingya

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