Cindy Huang testifies before the U.S. Congress House Foreign Affairs’ Asia Subcommittee on the situation of the Rohingya people, a long persecuted Muslim minority in Myanmar.
Since 2016, over 1 million Rohingya Muslims have fled ethnic cleansing by Myanmar's military and taken refuge in Bangladesh, which has one of the highest population densities in the world.
Following the Foreign Minister’s announcement that it could no longer accept Rohingya refugees, Bangladesh has completed some construction as part of a plan to relocate 100,000 refugees to a remote, monsoon-prone island in the Bay of Bengal.
The island's name, Bhasan Char, means "floating island". Rohingya activists have criticized the decision, saying that they didn't get a chance to weigh in.
Daniel Sullivan, senior advocate for human rights at Refugees International, gives an update on the situation in Myanmar, and then discusses Bangladesh’s refugee relocation plan.
On August 27, the UN-mandated Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar released a devastating report concluding that the country’s military leaders should be prosecuted for the “gravest crimes under international law, against the Rohingya minority. While this aspect of the report has garnered the greatest attention, other important findings including that the crimes of the Myanmar military go far beyond those committed against the Rohingya, and that the burden of responsibility for those crimes extends beyond the military have gone largely unnoticed.
The report comes one year after the Myanmar military systematically forced more than 700,000 people from the Rohingya Muslim minority from their homes and villages across the border into Bangladesh. At least 10,000 Rohingya were killed in a targeted campaign of genocide, the UN experts say -- adding that 10,000 is a conservative estimate.
Daniel Sullivan, senior advocate for Human Rights at Refugees International, visited and interviewed Rohingya refugees living in Bangladesh earlier this year and recently wrote an article called "Five Key Priorities To Address the Rohingya Crisis."
The U.N. is calling for an investigation into Myanmar’s violent crackdown last year against the Rohingya, a Muslim minority group. But Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh are finally receiving aid, and despite repatriation discussions, many are reluctant to return to the people who brutalized them. Nick Schifrin talks to special correspondent Tania Rashid and Refugees International's Dan Sullivan.
As we mark the first anniversary of the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya minority from Myanmar, it is clear that too little has been done to support, protect, and provide for this marginalized community. Now, accountability is urgently needed to provide a sense of justice to the Rohingya, to act as a deterrent against further abuses of the Rohingya and other ethnic minorities in the country, and to help stabilize the region.
The Rohingya minority in Myanmar has undergone a brutal campaign of ethnic cleansing marked by widespread and systematic sexual violence. While Rohingya women living in refugee camps in Bangladesh are currently safe from the violence in Myanmar, gender-based violence (GBV) continues in refuge, with hundreds of incidents reported weekly. And despite the acute awareness of the use of sexual violence as a weapon against the Rohingya, the humanitarian community in Bangladesh was—and remains—ill-prepared to prioritize the response to GBV as a lifesaving matter.
Rohingya refugees are at immediate danger from an assortment of sectors
The Rohingya crisis has proved to be a herculean challenge for Bangladesh over the past nine months. Even as the country hosts nearly a million forcibly displaced Rohingya people in Cox’s Bazar, the problems seem to escalate despite every effort to solve them.
Refugees International (RI), an advocacy group for displaced and stateless people, published a report where it said that Rohingya refugees are at immediate danger from an assortment of sectors, and recommended feasible solutions to stakeholders to address the situation.
The report titled “Unnatural Disaster: Aid Restrictions Endangering Rohingya Ahead Of Monsoons In Bangladesh” concurs with reports by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) about the immediate threat the Rohingya diaspora in Bangladesh are facing.
Long-term planning and political viability
The report commends Bangladesh for its bold moves to accommodate the Rohingya refugees and urges even bolder moves to draw the situation to a close. However, it identifies that the government has no long-term planning because of political pressure ahead of the elections and concerns that it may ease pressure on the Myanmar government if the Rohingya are rehabilitated in Bangladesh.
Lack of accountability in aid
The involvement of numerous international aid bodies has convoluted the humanitarian efforts and prevented development of uniform guidelines or standards. As such, when there are massive setbacks like 2,699 latrines are decommissioned and another 15,000 are emptied, and a further 5,000 no longer function, there should be a mechanism of accountability for shoddy planning and construction.
There are concerns that the process of aiding Rohingya refugees has become labyrinthine with a plethora of international NGOs, domestic NGOs, government agencies, and other concerned groups getting involved. One such issue is the subject of issuing visas to international humanitarian personnel.
Earlier in March, 39 foreign aid workers were detained by authorities for not possessing the necessary paperwork to work in the country. They were later released after pledging to rectify matters. Refugees International (RI) recommends the visa process be eased for these groups. Aid workers now receive non-immigration visas, but it requires juggling between several ministries and there is no specific policy regarding it.
Retaliation against Myanmar
The report stresses that the solution, just like the origin of the problem, lies with Myanmar. Hence, it recommends UN member countries to place selective sanctions on senior Myanmar military officers tied to the Rohingya genocide. In addition, an arms embargo on the Myanmar military is recommended, as well as referring cases of abuse of the Rohingya to the International Criminal Court.
RI recommends donors be asked to fully fund the $951m Joint Response Plan for the Rohingya crisis plan, of which only 17% has been raised.
The repatriation to Myanmar is urged to be safe, voluntary, and dignified. The report asks for a Memorandum of Understanding between Myanmar, the UNHCR, and the UNDP as a framework to support repatriation efforts.
RI is opposed to repatriation at this time, citing the lack of long-term planning and sustainability.
Bhasan Char relocation ill-conceived
The Bangladesh government’s plans to relocate Rohingya refugees to Bhasan Char has been seen as a cause for concern. Natural disasters like flooding, storms and cyclones, in addition to reduced accessibility, are identified as a hindrance to the rights of the Rohingya people.
This piece originally appeared here
Bangladesh PM Calls on India’s Modi to Press Myanmar over Repatriating Rohingya
Paritosh Kanti Paul and Kamran Reza Chowdhury
Kolkata, India, and Dhaka
Rohingya refugees have established a camp in Madhurchara, Cox’s Bazar, May 22, 2018.
Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina asked Indian counterpart Narendra Modi on Friday to press Myanmar to take back hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees sheltering in southeastern Bangladesh.
The plea came as the pair kicked off a series of bilateral engagements in West Bengal, India, with the Indian prime minister reportedly praising current ties between the neighboring countries as being in a “golden chapter.”
“Put pressure on Myanmar so the government takes them back,” Hasina told Modi during the dedication ceremony for a Bangladeshi cultural center at Visva Bharati University and at a private meeting later in the day.
She was referring to nearly 700,000 Rohingya refugees who had fled to Bangladesh from a brutal military crackdown in Myanmar’s Rakhine state since August 2017. Last November, officials from Myanmar and Bangladesh signed a bilateral agreement for the voluntary repatriation of those refugees, but the two countries have yet to start the physical process of sending Rohingya back to their home state of Rakhine.
Hasina’s plea to Modi came the same day that a Bangladesh official announced that a plan to move about 100,000 Rohingya from refugee camps in and around Cox’s Bazar district to Bhashan Char, a low-lying flood-prone island in the Bay of Bengal, would be delayed by two to three months.
Since the unprecedented influx began nine months ago, Bangladesh has been widely praised for taking in the huge number of Rohingya refugees, which has brought the total refugee population in southeastern Bangladesh to around 1 million.
But a report this week by an NGO, Refugees International (RI), took both the Bangladeshi government and the United Nations to task for not being better prepared to protect the sheltering population from potential natural disasters that could be unleashed by upcoming monsoonal rains, which run from June to September.
“The humanitarian response, including preparation for the monsoon season, has been significant and substantial – but it has also been hamstrung by a number of obstacles and lack of effective management and coordination by the Government of Bangladesh and the United Nations system,” RI said in the report released Wednesday.
“Failure to overcome these challenges is unnecessarily putting lives at risk.”
The report called for removing bureaucratic barriers hindering humanitarian activities by NGOs, streamlining the government’s humanitarian response structure through the appointment of a single senior official to oversee efforts; providing safe and suitable land for Rohingya while establishing smaller, less crowed camps; and not moving refugees to Bhashan Char.
RI’s recommendations for the U.N. included urging the government to remove barriers for NGOs and to stop refugees from being moved to Bhashan Char. Refugees International also urged the U.N. to pursue repatriation as the ultimate goal.
‘The world should learn from us’
On Friday, a Bangladeshi official overseeing Rohingya shot back at NGO’s findings.
“We totally disagree with the observation of Refugee International. Their allegations are simply sweeping comments without knowing what herculean tasks we are doing here at the grassroots,” Habibul Kabir Chowdhury, chief of the Rohingya section at the ministry of disaster management, told BenarNews.
“All of Europe could not handle 100,000 refugees in one year, but we handled 1 million people in three months,” he said.
He praised efforts to care for the refugees.
“Many forecast that thousands of people would die of disease, hunger and malnutrition. But it has not happened. No one died of hunger and disease,” Chowdhury said. “The world should learn from us how to handle humanitarian crisis. We live with monsoon rains, floods and other disasters – we know how to face a crisis.”
In its own report updated on Friday, the U.N.’s refugee agency (UNHCR) said the priority in Bangladesh was “to prevent an emergency within an emergency.”
“The single greatest challenge to refugee protection is the physical environment of the settlements themselves, notably the congestion, access challenges due to a lack of roads and pathways, the high rates of water contamination and the significant risk of epidemics,” UNHCR said.
The agency said the monsoon season could further deteriorate an already dire situation.
Meanwhile, a top official in Bangladesh’s Ministry of Disaster Management said the relocation, which was scheduled to begin in June, could occur in August or September because preparations to build infrastructure to accommodate the refugees on the island were still under way.
“According to a report, about 80 percent of Bhashan Char has been completed,” Additional Secretary Md. Mohsin, said, adding that the Bangladesh Navy was responsible for the project.
“An 11-member committee, consisting of six from the Bangladesh government and five from UNHCR and other aid agencies has been formed to look into this matter,” he said.
The committee would visit the island next week to check on progress and to determine when the refugees could be moved, he added.
A Rohingya leader who lives in the Balukhali refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, said refugees would move to the island if told to do so.
“We do not know how that place is set up and we do not know what’s there,” Mahmud Badar told BenarNews. “We are here under the supervision of the United Nations. We will do whatever the U.N. says.”
This piece originally appeared here
This report warns that a humanitarian catastrophe is imminently threatening the lives of nearly one million Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh as they now face the onset of the monsoon and cyclone seasons. The humanitarian response, including preparation for the monsoon season, has been significant and substantial – but it has also been hamstrung by obstacles and lack of effective management and coordination by the Government of Bangladesh and the United Nations system. Failure to overcome these challenges is unnecessarily putting lives at risk.
The Security Council delegation's visit to the destroyed Rohingya villages in Myanmar should be an important first critical step toward accountability for the ethnic cleansing in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, and an important step toward the type of conditions conducive to the voluntary return of Rohingya in safety and dignity to Myanmar. Now the UN and international community must deliver.