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On Tuesday, October 9th, the Open Society Foundations and Refugees International co-hosted an event on the ongoing inter-communal violence in Rakhine State, Burma, which has displaced thousands of stateless Rohingya. The event brought together representatives of the U.S. government, civil society, and the media to review recent developments in Burma and Bangladesh.
The event opened with Anne Richard, Assistant Secretary for Population, Refugees, and Migration at the U.S. State Department, who stressed America’s humanitarian contributions in the region. “In fiscal year 2012,” Ms. Richard said, “we provided almost $24 million to our international organization and non-governmental organization partners to support protection and humanitarian assistance programs for Burmese refugees and asylum seekers residing in neighboring countries and conflict-affected populations inside Burma.”
Kelly Clements, Richard's deputy in charge of East Asia, gave a keynote address underscoring that statelessness remains a major impediment to peace and stability in Burma. “Combating statelessness requires first that governments, civil society groups, and international, regional, and local organizations recognize the problem, its causes, and the suffering and indignities it inflicts on millions of people around the world,” Ms. Clements declared. “This is an under-recognized problem. But recognition is not enough – governments around the world must take strong action to address this eminently solvable problem for millions of disenfranchised and vulnerable people.”
Ms. Clements also highlighted the findings of a recent high-level U.S. delegation to Burma which looked into the issue. “In our field visits to the official camps, refugees demonstrated for the right to nationality, highlighted human rights violations, and advocated for more services and education for their children,” she said. “Outside the camps, the undocumented Rohingya population suffers even more without access to school, health care or decent shelter.”
The event concluded with a discussion moderated by Morton Halperin, senior advisor at the Open Society Foundations, and featuring Sarnata Reynolds of RI and John Sifton, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. Ms. Reynolds gave an overview of her mission to the region last month, and presented photographs she obtained of burned-out villages and malnourished Rohingya children.
“More than 4500 displaced Rakhine who lived in northern townships and Sittwe town are now living in IDP camps, monasteries, and schools,” Ms. Reynolds said, referring to the capital of Rakhine State. “This community has suffered the loss of property and the trauma of inter-communal violence, and it is vital that their needs – both physical and psycho-social – are met over the long-term.
Ms. Reynolds and Mr. Sifton both proposed steps that Burma, Bangladesh, and the international community must take to end inter-communal violence and promote peace and stability. Ms. Reynolds said that the world should leverage Burma’s desire to transform its international reputation and economy to secure positive steps on integrating the Rohingya into society.
“Opportunities for structured dialogues between community and religious leaders should be encouraged and explored,” she added. “Public statements from the highest level of government should recognize and reinforce the rights of both communities to freedom of movement, livelihood, and education, among others.”
The event also featured a slide show of moving photographs by Greg Constantine, whose portraits capture the everyday lives of Rohingya living on the margins of society. Mr. Constantine’s images can be viewed here.October 15, 2012 | Tagged as: Bangladesh, Burma, Humanitarian Response, Asia, Statelessness