High Commissioner in Dhaka favours long-term, durable solution to Rohingya crisis

Australian High Commissioner to Bangladesh Julia Niblett has said Australia will continue to "work energetically" with Bangladesh bilaterally, regionally and internationally, saying there is huge potential for collaboration and strengthening relations further between the two countries.

She summarised the prognosis for Bangladesh-Australia relations simply in three Ps -- potential for growth, pragmatic and people-centric.

"There are many areas where Australia will continue to energetically work with Bangladesh," said the Australian High Commissioner describing their relations with Bangladesh "multifaceted, deep and historical" ones.

She made the remarks while delivering the keynote at a symposium titled "Bangladesh-Australia Relations: Prognosis for the Future" under the Cosmos Foundation's Ambassador Lecture Series at Six Seasons Hotel in the city on Tuesday.

Cosmos Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Bangladeshi conglomerate Cosmos Group, hosted the symposium chaired by Principal Research Fellow of the Institute of South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore, Dr Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury.

Cosmos Foundation Chairman Enayetullah Khan delivered the welcome speech.

UNB Chairman Amanullah Khan, economist Dr Zaidi Sattar, British High Commissioner to Bangladesh Robert Chatterton Dickson, Canadian High Commissioner to Bangladesh Benoit Prefontaine, Brazilian Ambassador to Bangladesh Joao Tabajara de Oliveira Junior, former foreign secretaries Shamsher Mobin Chowdhury and Md Touhid Hossain, prominent businessman Salahuddin Kasem Khan and former and current diplomats were, among others, present.

The Australian High Commissioner said Australia wants to approach the decade ahead -- with all countries, including Bangladesh -- with confidence on the things that matter to keeping their region "secure, stable, peaceful and prosperous".

On the Rohingya issue, she said they will continue to work with Bangladesh, Myanmar, other regional partners and the broader international community towards a long-term and durable solution to Rohingya crisis. "We'll stand by Bangladesh on the Rohingya issue."

The High Commissioner said Australia will continue to pursue accountability for the abuses, and justice for the Rohingya through strong support for UN resolutions and accountability mechanisms.

Niblett said Australia continues to encourage Myanmar to implement the Rakhine Advisory Commission's recommendations.

Responding to a question, the High Commissioner said actions have to be taken in Myanmar to build trust among Rohingyas and ensure their rights on their return.

She said they are using many tools available to them "diplomatically, bilaterally, regionally and internationally" to try and help find a sustainable solution to the Rohingya crisis.

Niblett said they recognise the risk of radicalisation, exploitation and transnational crimes due to the longer stay of Rohingyas here and mentioned that these areas need to be addressed. "My view is that prevention is the best way to tackle these issues."

The High Commissioner said Australia recognises the generosity of Bangladesh in hosting over one million Rohingyas and has been actively supporting the humanitarian needs of those people affected by the Rohingya crisis, including the host community, providing over $122 million in humanitarian assistance since August 2017.

"But our assistance in providing food to Rohingya and the host community of Cox's Bazar goes back long before that most recent influx," she said.

On Myanmar, the High Commissioner said, Australia has acted, and continues to act in response to the atrocities committed in Myanmar.

"We're deeply disturbed by the UN Fact-finding Mission's conclusion that war crimes, and likely, genocide, have occurred in Rakhine State. We've strongly condemned the atrocities committed in Myanmar," she said.

Dr Iftekhar said Bangladesh and Australia have enjoyed long-time cultural and emotional links, but it is true that any relationship of this kind is better situated within the present-day strategic and economic imperatives rather than nostalgic musings.

"The simple but incontrovertible point of my remarks is that there's plenty of scope in our bilateral relations," he said.

Dr Iftekhar said there are exciting potentials for collaboration among countries in the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) and beyond for the exploitation of maritime resources.

Asked about specific areas of collaboration in the era of blue economy, the Australian High Commissioner said initially they are looking at what is the scope and what are the possibilities.

Indo-Pacific and Bangladesh

The High Commissioner said Australia's guiding principles for its foreign policy is that they support an open, inclusive and prosperous Indo-Pacific in which the sovereign rights of all states are respected.

These principles, she said, underpin their engagement with all countries in the Indo-Pacific, including Bangladesh.

The High Commissioner said the Indo-Pacific is not just a geographic description -- it reflects strategic and economic reality, embracing India, Bangladesh and the nations of the Asia Pacific region, and it is where Australia's interests lie.

"And we acknowledge that there is no single Indo-Pacific concept on which all countries have to agree. Each country will have its own concept depending on its history, interests and priorities," Niblett said.

The Indo-Pacific is undergoing a significant strategic and economic transformation and by 2030, the Indo-Pacific region is expected to be home to the world's five largest economies: China, the United States, India, Indonesia and Japan, she said.

People and Trade

She said Australia and Bangladesh have very close people-to-people links, through many years of migration, sporting links and education.

Almost 50,000 people of Bangladeshi origin are settled in Australia, and there are around 7,000 students in Australia, she said adding that she wants to see the number of students grow.

The High Commissioner said the trade between Bangladesh and Australia has grown by 550 percent over the last decade, with almost (AUD) $2.5 billion in two-way trade in 2018-19, including in goods and services.

Significant trade in the readymade garment industry and agricultural commodities is the cornerstone of the two-way trade relationship, she said mentioning that Bangladesh benefits from duty- and quota-free access to the Australian market.

No Finance for Terrorism

The High Commissioner said they are supporting Bangladesh to counter violent extremism, a problem that all countries face. "We must tackle (this problem) together. We're providing training for Police through the Police Staff College, and Australia Awards short courses on countering the financing of terrorism."

She said they have issued an invitation to a minister to attend the conference in Melbourne in November this year on 'No-Finance for Terrorism'.

Focusing on prevention, through our funding and joint Australian and Bangladesh participation on the Board, Australia supports the Global Community Engagement and Resilience Fund (GCERF), for local, community-level initiatives to strengthen community resilience against violent extremist agendas, said the High Commissioner.

Technology and Cyber Support

High Commissioner Niblett said Bangladesh has a strong focus on its technological and digital transformation and laid emphasis on building bridges between youths of the two countries taking advantage of technological advancement.

"We live in the most interconnected era in human history -- instantaneous communications, transactions and access to information keep our economies growing, infrastructure operating, governments working and people in touch. Technology will continue to fundamentally change the way we live and work," she said.

The High Commissioner said Australia's cyber affairs strategy is global in perspective and they believe they have significant expertise to lift engagement with Bangladesh on issues of digital trade, cybercrime, technology for development, digital service delivery and internet governance and cooperation.

"We've already worked with Bangladesh in some of these areas, but there's more we can do," the High Commissioner added.

Enayetullah Khan said High Commissioner Niblett, during her remarkable and continuing tenure, has carried the Australian flag to every nook and corner of the Bangladesh community and earned respect and affection.

"Your presence, I have no doubt, will not only broaden and deepen our understanding of Australia, but also show us the path to tread in terms of friendship and cooperation in the future ahead," he said.

The Cosmos Foundation chairman also announced that the next distinguished speaker in the series will be a significant player in the European political scene, the former President of Slovenia, Dr Danilo Turk, who is also well-known thought-leader in current European politics.

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