Bangladesh and the Rohingya crisis: UK Government response

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Ansar Ahmed Ullah
Contributing Editor, Shottobani

London: The International Development Committee (IDC) of Houses of Commons published its Fourth Report of Session 2017–19, on Bangladesh and Burma: the Rohingya crisis. The UK Government welcomed the scrutiny of the IDC in this final report and agreed with all the concluding recommendations with one minor caveat.

The UK Government’s priorities on the Rohingya crisis are to ensure that displaced people and those otherwise affected by violence and intimidation within Rakhine State and refugees in Bangladesh receive the support they need, and that conditions are put in place which will allow them, in time, to return home voluntarily, in safety, with dignity and with international oversight. A credible returns process will take time, and the UK work with the Government of Bangladesh and international partners to ensure longer-term support to Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh meets and goes beyond immediate humanitarian needs. In the UK government needs to address discrimination against the remaining Rohingya, without this it is unlikely that those in Bangladesh will choose to return. In parallel, the UK will work to ensure that those responsible for the abuses are held to account, recognising this is likely to be a long process.

The Government will continue to use international pressure, co-operation with Burma’s neighbours and other influential countries, and dialogue with the Burmese authorities to urge progress on these priorities.

In light of the appalling violence suffered by the Rohingya people, and ongoing conflict in other parts of the country, most notably in Kachin, northern Shan and Kayin States, as well as continued high levels of poverty throughout the country, UK government’s Department for International Development (DFID) is making four shifts in the emphasis of its programmes to focus on inclusion, working more in conflict-affected areas, placing internally-displaced people and refugees at the centre of programme and ensuring UK’s engagement with the Burmese government is focused on enabling reforms that support inclusion, peace and accountability.

Supporting transitions to peace, an inclusive democracy and a more open and fairer economy remain the UK’s longer-term goals and are essential if all of Burma’s communities are to live safely, with their dignity and rights respected and with opportunities to prosper. The four shifts in emphasis in the DFID programme will allow meet immediate needs to be met for the most vulnerable populations, while continuing to work towards these longer-term goals.

The UK remains a firm supporter of Burma’s peace process. The number of parties involved in Burma makes this a hugely complex process, including by international comparisons. Although progress is currently slow, UK believes it can succeed and offers the most likely long-term solution to Burma’s internal conflicts. The UK is committed to pursuing accountability for human rights violations committed in Rakhine State, which will be an essential part of any sustainable resolution to the crisis. The UK continues to lead UN Security Council activity on Burma, ensuring that calls for the Burmese authorities to hold those responsible to account are consistently part of Council messaging.

In relation to Bangladesh the UK appreciated Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, and the host communities around Cox’s Bazar for welcoming over one million Rohingya refugees. Bangladesh is dealing with a major humanitarian crisis not of its making and it is vital the international community works with Bangladesh to step up support for the refugees and their host communities, especially during this monsoon season.

The UK Secretary of State for International Development and Foreign Secretary Mark Field wrote a joint letter on 20 March to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, asking her to save as many lives as possible by allocating additional land at lower risk of flooding and landslides, reducing density in the existing camps, and having evacuation plans in place. Minister Field made the same request to Minister of State Shahriar Alam on 27 March, and to Foreign Minister Ali on 19 April. Minister Field also met Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Foreign Minister Ali on 1 July in Dhaka and reassured them of the UK’s continuing commitment to supporting the Rohingya and host-communities over the longer-term.

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