The UN chief says the international community is yet to provide sufficient support to the refugees
Following a visit to the Rohingya refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar, the United Nations secretary-general has called for the international community to unite and put more pressure strongly on Myanmar in order to resolve the lingering crisis.
At a press briefing in a Dhaka hotel on Monday, Antonio Guterres said it was time for the international community to ask Myanmar to end all the practices that led to the crisis in the first place.
He said this visit was an expression of gratitude to the Bangladesh government for giving shelter to the hundreds of thousands of Rohingyas who have fled what the UN calls an ethnic cleansing in Myanmar’s Rakhine state since late-August 2017.
“That is a lesson for many countries that are much more developed, see a few thousand people coming, and close the borders,” he said.
Highlighting the atrocities the Rohingyas have faced in Myanmar, where they are also denied citizenship, Guterres said they wanted both accountability and political solutions to the crisis.
He said they wanted the Rohingyas to be able to live a normal life in their own country, emphasizing an end to the traumatic experiences he heard about from the refugees during his visit to the Kutupalong Rohingya refugee camps in Ukhiya.
Along with World Bank President Jim Yong Kim, the UN chief briefed the media in the evening before ending a two-day trip to Bangladesh.
Kim also announced that the World Bank would provide $480 million to support the Rohingyas, while expressing his “gratitude” to Bangladesh for the “extremely generous” response.
He said the Bangladesh government’s level of commitment protecting the Rohingyas was very moving to him.
World Bank Country Director Qimiao Fan and UN Resident Coordinator in Dhaka Mia Seppo were also present at the briefing.
Guterres also laid emphasis on other basic rights of the Rohingyas, saying there was clear will within the UN Security Council to ask Myanmar to create the conditions needed for the refugees’ safe return home.
He said he had “no doubt that Security Council is united” in that matter, but also acknowledged that the council was divided on various global issues like Syria.
“There is no agreement between UN and Myanmar that these people should not be called Rohingyas. For the UN they are called Rohingyas, for Myanmar they are called Bengali Muslims. This disagreement exists,” he said, touching on the Rohingya citizenship issue.
Referring to the visit of a Security Council team, comprised of the representatives of all member states, to the Cox’s Bazar camps, Guterres said they were waiting for the UN fact-finding mission reports which could make very clear the crimes committed against the Rohingyas.
He said the UN was also pressing for addressing the question of their citizenship.
Earlier in the day, during his first visit to the refugee camps, the UN secretary-general said he had heard unimaginable accounts of atrocities, including rape and murder, and called for Myanmar to be held responsible for the crimes against the Rohingya people.
He described the situation for the persecuted Muslim minority “a humanitarian and human rights nightmare” before touring makeshift shelters crammed with people.
Nothing could’ve prepared me for the scale of crisis and extent of suffering I saw today in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. I heard heartbreaking accounts from Rohingya refugees that will stay with me forever.— António Guterres (@antonioguterres) July 2, 2018
My appeal to the int’l community is to step up support. pic.twitter.com/jP3vv3IIbs
“It is probably one of the most tragic, historic, systematic violations of human rights,” Guterres told another press briefing in the afternoon at Kutupalong camp, which is now the world's largest refugee settlement.
“Sometimes people tend to forget who is responsible for what happened. So let's be clear about where the responsibility is – it is in Myanmar.
“But it's true the whole international community was not able to stop (it)... The responsibilities of the crimes committed in Myanmar needs to be attributed to those who committed those crimes. We should not forget that.”
The level of unparalleled suffering created “an obligation to put pressure on Myanmar for the situation to change there,” he added.
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The UN chief, the World Bank president and their entourage, which included Bangladesh Foreign Minister AH Mahmood Ali, had left Cox’s Bazar for Dhaka around 6pm.
During his visit to the camps, Antonio Guterres had tweeted: "Nothing could've prepared me for the scale of crisis and extent of suffering I saw today.”
"I heard heartbreaking accounts from Rohingya refugees that will stay with me forever."
Jim Yong Kim also said the hardship in the camps was "one of the most disturbing situations we've ever seen".
"I was appalled, but the entire world should be appalled by what we're seeing," he said.
The UN Security Council delegation had visited Myanmar's Rakhine state in early May, meeting refugees who gave detailed accounts of killings, rape and villages torched at the hands of the military.
Myanmar has vehemently denied allegations by the United States, the UN and others of ethnic cleansing.
Bangladesh and Myanmar agreed in November to begin repatriating the Rohingya but the process has stalled, with both sides accusing the other of frustrating the effort.
Fewer than 200 Rohingyas have been resettled so far, and the vast majority refuse to return until their rights, citizenship and safety are assured.
Around 100 Rohingya staged a protest just before Guterres's visit, unhappy about a preliminary UN deal with Myanmar to assess conditions on the ground for their possible return home.
The UN chief said the deal was a "first step" towards securing "progressive recognition of the rights of these people.”
The United Nations has said that conditions in Rakhine are not conducive for the refugees' safe, voluntary and dignified repatriation.
To address the ongoing and increasing needs, the UN had launched a Joint Response Plan in March, seeking $951 million to provide life-saving assistance for the refugees and host communities. So far, they have received only 18% funds.