The UNHCR special envoy arrived in Cox's Bazar on Monday morning to assess the humanitarian needs of the Rohingyas
UNHCR Special Envoy and Hollywood superstar Angelina Jolie has urged the Myanmar government to show genuine commitment to end the cycle of violence and displacement, and improve the conditions for all communities in Rakhine state, including the Rohingyas.
She made the call while briefing the media on Tuesday afternoon after visiting the Rohingya camp No 5 at Kutupalong in Cox's Bazar’s Ukhiya and meeting the refugees there.
Saying the people responsible for human rights violations must be held accountable for their actions, Jolie urged Myanmar to implement the recommendations of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State while working together with the Office of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and others.
She, however, added that while UNHCR was ready to support efforts to improve conditions, there has been very little progress on the ground. “The Rohingyas cannot return to Myanmar at this time.”
“The events that unfolded in the aftermath of August 2017 showed us the best and worst of humankind that exist in our world today,” she said.
Referring to her two-day visit at the refugee camps, Jolie said: “The Rohingya families I have met are no different from other refugees in one crucial respect: they want to be able to return home.
“And they have an absolute right to return home, but only when they feel safe enough to do so voluntarily and they know that their rights will be respected.”
Earlier in the day, Jolie had arrived at the Rohingya Extension Camp 4 at Kutupalong around 10:30am. Apart from visiting the education facilities there, she also exchanged greetings with numerous Rohingya women and listened to their stories of struggle.
She then visited two healthcare centres at Camp 3 and 4, run by Relief International and Hope Foundation, respectively, where she spoke with the refugees, including children and the women who survived brutal abuse in Myanmar.
Abuse and rights
Many Rohingyas at the camps in Teknaf and Ukhiya, where Jolie went to the past two days, said she had focused on the women who survived inhumane torture and sexual assault at the hands of Myanmar security forces.
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At the briefing, she said: “I met a woman yesterday [Monday], a survivor of rape in Myanmar, and she told me, ‘You would have to shoot me where I stand before I go back without my rights’.”
She added: “I also met yesterday some of the many survivors of sexual and gender-based violence, including mass rape. Nearly two years after the beginning of this emergency, there is still a worrying gap in psychosocial services available for refugee survivors. This gap urgently needs to be addressed.”
“The responsibility to ensure those rights and make it possible for the Rohingya people to return to the Rakhine State lies squarely with the government and the authorities in Myanmar.
“So I hope that they will recognize that this issue will not go away, just as we will not turn away from the Rohingyas,” said Jolie, who was made an UNHCR special envoy in April 2012.
Displaced and stateless
Jolie, who is in Bangladesh on a five-day visit, also said that the scale of forced displacement was now so large that there were more than twice as many Rohingyas living in exile than in Myanmar itself.
“And Cox’s Bazar, where we stand today, hosts the largest and most densely populated refugee camp, now home to more than 600,000 Rohingya refugees.”
Saying all refugees were inherently vulnerable, she added: “But the Rohingyas are not only displaced – they are stateless. They have been denied their most basic human right: citizenship in their country of birth.”
Jolie continued: “Until they can return, we have a collective responsibility to ensure that they can live dignified lives here in Bangladesh.”
She said that Bangladesh’s generosity in giving the Rohingyas a place of safety was a significant and visible gesture of humanity.
“Bangladesh is a generous country, rich in culture and history, but with limited resources. And it cannot be left to shoulder the responsibility of hosting Rohingya refugees alone.
“So I urge the international community to continue to provide the humanitarian aid necessary to meet the needs of the refugees and support the communities so generously hosting them,” Jolie added.
“... I pray that generosity and support continues for the Rohingya and their families.”
The UNHCR envoy had arrived at Cox’s Bazar in the morning on Monday, the first day of her first ever visit to Bangladesh.
Later, she visited the 21st refugee camp at the Chakmarkul camp under the Whykong union in Teknaf, and spoke to numerous Rohingya men and women who fled persecution in Myanmar’s Rakhine state.
Cox’s Bazar’s Additional Superintendent of Police Md Iqbal Hossain said that the Hollywood superstar will leave for Dhaka on Wednesday morning.
According to UNHCR, Jolie is here to assess the humanitarian needs of the refugees and some of the more critical challenges Bangladesh is facing as a host country.
Before leaving Bangladesh, she will hold meetings with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen in Dhaka.
During the meetings, she will discuss how UNHCR can best support the current response led by the Bangladesh government, and the need for safe and sustainable solutions to the plight of one of the world’s most persecuted minorities, according to the UN refugee agency.