Solution lies in Myanmar, UK working tirelessly for accountability and justice: Lord Ahmad

An unofficial tabulation of the vote from Myanmar's general election showed that the ruling National League for Democracy party of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi won an absolute majority of seats in Parliament, giving it a second five-year term in power. The international community will reengage with the new government in Myanmar once things are settled to find a durable solution to Rohingya crisis.

It's been more than three years since the latest crisis in August 2017 but the Rohingya's suffering continues. The United Kingdom believes that solution to Rohingya crisis lies in Myanmar and is working for accountability and justice. Lord Tariq Ahmad, Minister for South Asia and the Commonwealth at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), has exclusively responded to questions from Dhaka Courier (DC) on the important global issue.

DC: The UK has been a leading donor since 2017 to alleviate humanitarian suffering of the Rohingya. To what extent did the donor conference support Bangladesh to respond to this humanitarian crisis? Do you think the donor conference achieved its objective?

Lord Ahmad: The UK is extremely grateful to Bangladesh for hosting the Rohingya in their time of need and will continue to help the country until the crisis is resolved. Last month we announced £10 million to support Bangladesh's coronavirus response and preparations for natural disasters such as cyclones and monsoon flooding. This will help Bangladesh to build back better from coronavirus.

The UK also announced a further £37.5 million of new support to alleviate the suffering of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees and Bangladeshi people in Cox's Bazar. This UK aid will provide food, water and sanitation, as well as care and counselling for those traumatised by the horrific violence they have experienced. It will also improve access to education for 50,000 young people, as well as support isolation and treatment centres for people suffering with coronavirus.

DC: In terms of support, what's the UK's next plan for the Rohingya people? Besides the Rohingya, what is the UK's plan to support the host communities in Cox's Bazar?

Lord Ahmad: We remain committed to supporting host communities in Cox's Bazar. Our new funding will support more than 10,000 people from local Bangladeshi communities to cope with the economic impact of the pandemic, including through providing training and supporting business start-up funds. We are also currently providing 50,000 people with food assistance to help the Bangladeshi communities living around the camps.

To date, UK aid has helped to get more than 20,000 Bangladeshi women into better-paid jobs, more than 120,000 children and teenagers into quality education and helped over 110,000 people to access clean water.

DC: Does the UK's plan conflict with Bangladesh's plan to repatriate Rohingya to Myanmar without further delay as you are apparently looking for a long term support for the Rohingyas in Bangladesh?

Lord Ahmad: We welcome the Government of Bangladesh's longstanding commitment to voluntary, safe and dignified returns and share this aim. We are pressing Myanmar to address the root causes of the crisis so that this can become possible. However, the continued violence and threat to Rohingya people's lives in Rakhine State mean this isn't possible right now. Until that can happen, we will help refugees and Bangladeshi families, and take steps that will give the Rohingya the confidence to return home.

The Rohingya people need reassurances from the Myanmar government on their rights to citizenship, freedom of movement, access to education and livelihoods. The UK is raising these issues with Myanmar and at the UN, and we have convened the UN Security Council three times this year with a focus on the situation in Rakhine and Chin States. We have 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.

DC: This year, we have seen clashes in the Cox's Bazar Rohingya camps. There are incidents of killing too. Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen says the regional and international security will certainly be jeopardised if Rohingya issue remains unresolved? What's your comment on that and how Bangladesh can avert such security threats?

Lord Ahmad: We are extremely concerned by the recent escalation of violence in Cox's Bazar and we are relieved to see the situation has calmed for now. We are grateful to our humanitarian partners for their work to help those facing this in the camps.

Unfortunately, the trauma and violence the Rohingya have suffered, and the prolonged crisis, has led to fears of a lost generation within the camps. This sense of hopelessness is likely contributing to worsening tensions and increased crime. That's why our UK aid programmes support access to education, jobs and skills development opportunities for Rohingya people and host communities, to help people see a meaningful future for themselves. Our programmes also promote rule of law and access to justice, to help keep people safe.

DC: What are the specific measures the UK is looking for asking Myanmar to take back their nationals from Bangladesh?

Lord Ahmad: We would like Myanmar to take steps towards the safe, voluntary and dignified return of the Rohingya. As I mentioned, this includes addressing the root causes of the conflict. We also want the Rakhine Advisory Commission recommendations to be implemented, including recognising the Rohingya as citizens of Myanmar and allowing them freedom of movement, as well as making sure they can access essential services, like schooling and jobs. With the elections being cancelled in Rakhine, and the Rohingya disenfranchised, the new government must work to address the valid concerns of people across Rakhine.

DC: The government of Bangladesh has planned to relocate 100,000 Rohingyas to Bhasan Char. Several Bangladeshi media outlets have recently visited Bhasan Char and found the facilities there far better than the Cox's Bazar camps. Can we expect that the international community will respond positively to such a relocation plan?

Lord Ahmad: The UK is absolutely clear that the relocation of Rohingya refugees to Bhasan Char must be safe, voluntary and dignified. We are extremely concerned to hear of reports of alleged abuse, including sexual abuse, taking place on the island.

We support calls by the UN for a protection mission to the island to assess whether it is safe for people to live there. Full and detailed assessments are needed to determine this.

DC: What's your evaluation on the conference held on October 22?

Lord Ahmad: Last month's conference demonstrates that the world has not forgotten the plight of the Rohingya people and the burden that Bangladesh in particular is shouldering in providing refuge and protection. As a force for good in the world, the UK is proud to have co-hosted the conference and will continue to work with Bangladesh. It's been more than three years since the latest crisis in August 2017 but the Rohingya's suffering continues, and we must not abandon them. Of course we must continue to support those who are generously hosting them - particularly Bangladesh.

Along with our co-hosts, the US, EU and UN Refugee Agency, we urged countries to pledge new support for Rohingya refugees, host communities such as those in Cox's Bazar, and internally displaced Rohingya in Myanmar itself. We will also provide the political support needed to resolve this crisis in the long-term. That solution lies in Myanmar and the UK is working tirelessly for accountability and justice.

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