Rohingya community – a desperate situation

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By Thomas Drew CMG
This has been an important week for Burma’s Rohingya community. While the situation remains desperate and they are part of one of the largest refugee crises in the world today, the UK has sought to lead the international community towards a lasting solution to what is one of the largest refugee crises in the world today. As President of the United Nations Security Council, the UK has this week initiated and chaired a meeting on the crisis. We used it to call for strong and immediate international action on accountability and support for the Rohingya refugees.

During this meeting the United Nations Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, reported back the findings of the UN Fact-Finding Mission report. This report is the most authoritative account yet of the crimes committed against the Rohingya community. As the world feared, it detailed widespread rape and murder committed by the Burmese military; the systematic oppression and persecution they have suffered for many years; and the patterns of violence and violations committed elsewhere in the country. The report concludes that this amounts to genocide, and crimes against humanity.

Like Pakistan, the UK has consistently condemned these atrocities against the Rohingya. We were one of the first countries to respond both diplomatically and through humanitarian assistance to Rohingya refugees arriving in Bangladesh. The UK Minister of State for Asia, Mark Field, was one of the first ministers to visit the region and refugee camps in Bangladesh after the military crackdown against the Rohingya population in August last year. Over the past year, we have provided £129 million (almost 20 billion rupees) in assistance including food, medicine, counselling and psychological support. Through the Department for International Development, we have helped reunite traumatised children with their parents, provided counselling for sexual violence survivors and helped make sure that the vulnerable in refugee camps are protected from people traffickers. We have helped to build sturdy, protected shelters for the rainy season, and UK support will ensure 10,000 upgraded shelter kits, 90,000 tarpaulins, 100,000 blankets and 100,000 floor mats are accessible for those in need. And politically we have been steadfast in our pressure on the Burmese authorities.

But the solution to this crisis lies in Burma. The Rohingya deserve justice. The Fact-Finding Mission has concluded that what happened in Rakhine last year warrants “the investigation and prosecution of senior officials in the Tatmadaw chain of command, so that a competent court can determine their liability for genocide in relation to the situation in Rakhine State”. The UK calls for the perpetrators to be held to account.

The Burmese government has begun to engage with the UN Special Envoy whose diplomatic work we support. This step is welcome and it has not been easy for the civilian government, whose action remains constrained by the military. Butut more needs to be done. The Burmese authorities also need to provide the UN with unconditional and unqualified access to northern Rakhine. Until UNHCR and the UNDP can operate effectively, it will be impossible to argue that conditions in Rakhine are anywhere near what is required for the safe, voluntary, and dignified repatriation that the UN Security Council has called for. Hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people will remain without the aid and development assistance they urgently need.

The UK remains committed to helping the Rohingya. We accept that the crisis is complex and has deep roots. It will not be solved overnight, and consensus built in the United Nations Security Councils is just the first step. But we also know that immediate action is needed. The UK will continue to work towards a solution that the Rohingya community desperately needs.

(The writer is the British High Commissioner to Pakistan.)