President Trump Must Prioritize Rohingya Crisis In Southeast Asia Visit

President Should Reaffirm Calls by Cabinet Members for Strong Action

As President Trump takes part in meetings and summits in Southeast Asia, he must address the ethnic cleansing of Myanmar’s Rohingya minority population by Myanmar’s security forces. 

Eric Schwartz, President of Refugees International, said, “President Trump’s Cabinet Members, including U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and Vice President Mike Pence have each made clear the United States should not stand by while massive abuses are taking place in Myanmar – the President should of course be saying exactly the same thing, and follow up his words with action.”

Each of these members of the Trump Cabinet has expressed extraordinary concern regarding the exodus of more than 600,000 Rohingya from Myanmar since August 2017. They have demanded action by the Government of Myanmar and by the United Nations to address what they have described as “a great tragedy,”  “terrible savagery,” and “a brutal, sustained campaign to cleanse the country of an ethnic minority.” Vice President Pence also stated that President Trump joined him in calling for “strong and swift action”:

“President Trump and I also call on this Security Council and the United Nations to take strong and swift action to bring this crisis to an end and give hope and help to the Rohingya people in their hour of need.” – Vice President Mike Pence addressing the UN Security Council, September 20, 2017

“We cannot be afraid to call the actions of the Burmese authorities what they appear to be: a brutal, sustained campaign to cleanse the country of an ethnic minority.” – U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley addressing the UN Security Council, September 28, 2017

“What’s most important to us is that the world can’t just stand idly by and be witness to the atrocities that are being reported in the area.” – Secretary of State Rex Tillerson statement, October 18, 2017

President Trump’s meetings with the leaders of Southeast Asia, including those of Myanmar, provide a crucial opportunity to address the crisis and to push for the kind of action his Cabinet members have been calling for.

Refugees International encourages President Trump, in his meetings with Southeast Asia’s leaders, to prioritize the important recommendations expressed by members of his Cabinet, including:

  • Joining a global arms embargo, preventing any further weapons to the Myanmar security forces until sufficient accountability measures are in place.

  • Demanding Myanmar grant unhindered humanitarian access for UN agencies and other relief organizations.

  • Pressing for safe returns of displaced Rohingya back to their homes in Myanmar.

Refugees International welcomes moves by the U.S. government to halt limited military-to-military cooperation with Myanmar and suspend granting of travel visas for senior military officials and urges Southeast Asian governments to take similar measures. Refugees International also urges the U.S. and Southeast Asian governments to take further measures to place targeted sanctions on Senior General Min Aung Hlaing and other senior military officials and on military-owned enterprises until the Myanmar government ends abuses in Rakhine state, permits unfettered international humanitarian access, and holds accountable individuals involved in planning, aiding, or carrying out abuses against the Rohingya.


More than 600,000 ethnic Rohingya people have fled their homes in western Myanmar’s Rakhine State across the border to Bangladesh since late August 2017. The refugees have fled clearance operations by the Myanmar security forces and attacks by local Rakhine mobs following an attack on August 25th by a group of Rohingya militants against some 30 police posts and an army base. The response of the Myanmar security forces has been condemned as grossly disproportionate with the United Nations and numerous human rights groups reporting widespread and systematic burning of homes, shooting of fleeing Rohingya, and mass rapes in a campaign of ethnic cleansing.

President Trump and Secretary of State Tillerson will travel to Vietnam on November 10 and 11 to attend Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meetings and to the Philippines on November 12 and 13 to attend the meetings of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Secretary Tillerson will separately visit Myanmar on November 15.

Refugees International traveled to Bangladesh in late September 2017 and released a report, “Bearing Witness to Crimes Against Humanity: The Forced Expulsion of the Rohingya from Myanmar”