Rohingyas’ right to return must be high on int’l agenda

British Secretary of State for International Development and Minister for Women and Equalities Penny Mordaunt speaks to a select group of journalists at the residence of the High Commissioner on Feb 19, 2019. Photo: Courtesy

It’s time to look beyond short-term live-saving assistance, says UK Minister Penny Mordaunt

The United Kingdom is providing vital humanitarian aid to many of the over million Rohingyas and vulnerable local communities in Cox’s Bazar district of Bangladesh. Since 25 August 2017, UK aid from British taxpayers has provided £129 million in funding to the Rohingya crisis.

British Secretary of State for International Development and Minister for Women and Equalities Penny Mordaunt, the first UK cabinet minister who visited Bangladesh (on February 18-19, 2019) since the December-30 national election here, met Rohingyas living in Kutupalong camp at a food distribution centre.

Mordaunt spoke with women being protected from violence, and saw how children with disabilities were getting the therapy and treatment they need, all supported by UK aid. Her visit focused on exploring longer term solutions by supporting education, developing skills and improving access to training opportunities.

International Development Secretary Mordaunt first visited the Rohingya camp in Cox’s Bazar in November 2017. During her second visit, she reaffirmed its commitment to help resolve the Rohingya crisis saying that the right of these displaced people’s return to their place of origin in Myanmar’s Rakhine State must remain high on international agenda.

“We must make sure that Rohingyas’ right to return remains high on the international agenda,” said Minister Mordaunt while responding to a question from UNB before her departure on February 19. She laid emphasis on unceasing joint efforts to protect both Rohingyas and the host communities here. British High Commissioner in Dhaka Alison Blake was also present at the interaction held at the residence of the High Commissioner in the city.

The plight of the Rohingyas must not be forgotten, she said during her second visit to Cox’s Bazar on February 18.

Mordaunt said she would push for the changes needed in Myanmar to help the Rohingyas return to their homes.

But, she said, now is the time to look beyond short-term live-saving assistance support, to give them the skills they need to create sustainable lives -- both for themselves and their families.

Minister Mordaunt said they will continue working to make sure that the conditions for people to go back are there in Rakhine and keep building national resilience to respond to weather events in Bangladesh.

The UK wants to see Rohingyas’ desire to return home is fulfilled but the return requires favorable environment in Rakhine and elsewhere to ensure that they can live in peace and security; and the human rights issues are upheld.

Responding to UNB question, the British Minister said the UK has been and will remain so absolutely at the forefront of those efforts.

She said they will continue focusing on the efforts to try and get required conditions in Myanmar apart from addressing accountability issue. “It’s extremely important.”

Asked how the UK can help implement Bangladesh’s proposal to create a safe zone in Rakhine State, the Minister said they, like Bangladesh, clearly want to see the Rohingya crisis is resolved.

“I think whether it’s any kind of zone, camp or anything, that is back on the other side of the border, we need to ensure that the conditions are right before anyone can  go back,” Minister Mordaunt said adding that it is not just human rights issue but it is also a very practical issue.

Because, she explained, the last thing they want is for Rohingya people to start returning but they will feel insecure if there is more violence. “We’ll do everything we can to try and ensure that those (required) conditions (for return) are met.”

Responding to another question, the British Minister said access is incredibly important to Rakhine State and that is something they been calling for. “It’s important as we want to see what’s happening there (on the ground). We’re very concerned about the continuing violence.”

The British Minister laid emphasis on building confidence among Rohingyas saying it is really important.

On environmental impact, she said there are some areas of concerns and clearly there has been an environmental impact on the camps. “We want to support as much as possible to reduce the impact.”

The British Minister said one of the purposes of her visit to Bangladesh to discuss on how to take forward the development partnership forward between the two countries. “Some really exciting things are happening.”

She said the UK is willing to strengthen its partnership with Bangladesh in various areas, including in the area of education and skill development.

Mordaunt said the major man-made humanitarian crisis has been ethnic cleansing on an industrial scale and urged the government of Myanmar to create the necessary conditions that would allow those Rohingya currently living in Bangladesh to return.

UK aid and donations from the generous British public are providing life-sustaining humanitarian assistance to many of the almost one million Rohingyas and vulnerable host communities in Cox’s Bazar.

She said the government and the people of Bangladesh have shown great generosity and humanity in hosting the Rohingya. “But we recognise that Bangladesh can’t shoulder this responsibility alone and I’m proud of the UK’s leading.”

The plight of the Rohingyas to return home must not fall off the international agenda and they must be given justice.

Mordaunt also visited the icddr,b, a world-renowned medical research centre which also houses a hospital specialising in cholera and other waterborne diseases.

UK aid supports the hospital’s research and the development of simple life-saving innovations such as breathing apparatus for small babies that was created using an empty shampoo bottle.

Experts at the hospital have also advised humanitarian workers in Yemen on how to treat deadly outbreaks of cholera, according to a media release.

Mordaunt’s visit builds on the 2017 Rohingya crisis when the British public donated “incredibly generously” towards the crisis through the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) Appeal, raising £30 million, including £5 million matched pound-for-pound by the UK government.

New strategies worked out

State Minister for Foreign Affairs M Shahriar Alam has said the government has worked out some new strategies after reviewing the overall situation to deal with the Rohingya repatriation issue.

“We’ve worked out some new strategies after reviewing things and you’ll soon see implementation of those strategies,” he said after his meeting with British Minister Mordaunt held at the state guesthouse Padma on February 19.

Referring to government’s involvement in multilateral discussion, the State Minister said the government is in discussion with other countries on Rohingya issue to find a lasting solution to it.

Most vulnerable must be given a say

On her first visit to Myanmar before arriving Dhaka, Minister Mordaunt called for the most vulnerable to be given a say in their country’s future after shifting the work of UK aid there to help disadvantaged and conflict-affected people.

Her words come after the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya in Rakhine State and violations in Kachin and Shan States, all in Myanmar.

In Yangon, Mordaunt met women who are being protected from modern day slavery, trafficking, gender inequality and poor sexual and reproductive health, at the Eden Project and Aung Myin Hmu, both supported by UK aid through the Department for International Development (DFID).

Mordaunt said, “I believe the British people want human rights to be at the heart of the work we do and for UK aid to be delivered in the smartest way possible. In Yangon I’ve seen UK aid doing just that by tackling organised crime, protecting vulnerable girls from trafficking, training women to have jobs and livelihoods and giving British businesses confidence in the standards of their supply chains here.”

She said the British public showed tremendous compassion for the Rohingya and it’s clear to her that protecting those who are still here and supporting them to live side-by-side and in peace in their communities is what they should be focusing on in Myanmar.

  • DhakaCourier
  • Vol 35
  • AKM Moinuddin
  • Issue 33
  • Rohingyas’ right to return must be high on int’l agenda

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