Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Thursday urged the world community to keep humanitarian assistance for the Rohingyas and their repatriation on top of the agenda for a solution to the crisis created by Myanmar.
The prime minister was speaking at the high-level event on the Rohingya crisis titled “Have they forgotten us?” at the UN headquarters on the sidelines of the 78th UNGA session.
“Continue our humanitarian efforts to ensure the sustenance of these ill-fated and hapless human beings,” said the Bangladesh leader.
She also called for pursuing ongoing and available legal and multilateral mechanisms to ensure “accountability of the perpetrators who committed persistent…and systematic heinous atrocities against this ethnic minority.”
She also urged to redouble concerted efforts to ensure lasting solutions to this problem with voluntary repatriation being the most viable one.
Bangladesh with the co-sponsorship of Canada, the Gambia, Malaysia, Indonesia, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America organised the event.
The prime minister said the Rohingya issue has now reached a point of stagnation. Not a single displaced Rohingya has been able to return to their homes in Myanmar in the last six years.
“Their prolonged presence in Bangladesh is not only pushing them further into hopelessness; it is also making the situation in Cox’s Bazaar precarious. The host community has become a victim of their own generosity.”
On top of that, she said, global attention to their needs is rapidly diminishing. This is evident in the increasing funding gaps in the humanitarian response plan.
Sheikh Hasina said all are aware that the entire world is going through turmoil. The number of people displaced by conflict, climate change, and other factors has reached a record high. “The international community is overwhelmed by the scale and dimensions of multiple crises that we all, as humans, are faced with.”
“However, we cannot forget the Rohingyas. The 2017 exodus was not an isolated incident. They have been victims of persecution and exclusion in Myanmar for decades,” she told the meeting.
The prime minister mentioned that all have a responsibility to redress their victimisation in a comprehensive manner. Humanitarian assistance is important for their sustenance, but it is not enough.
“We need to ensure that they are able to return to their homes in Myanmar and pursue a life of dignity and certainty.”
And for that, she said, “we need to address the problem at its root, which lies in Myanmar.” “They need protection and opportunities in their own country so that they do not have to flee from their homes.”
Sheikh Hasina said Bangladesh hosting over a million displaced Rohingyas for a long period of time has never been an option.
“Bangladesh is a small country with a high density of population. As one of the worst victims of global warming and sea level rise, we are already overburdened by the increasing number of climate-induced internally displaced persons.”
Aside from that, she mentioned that the prolonged presence of the Rohingyas has “entailed grave social, economic, and security repercussions for our people.”
“The biodiversity of Cox’s Bazar is seriously damaged by the destruction of 6,800 acres of reserved forest, which is now known as the largest refugee camp in the world,” she reminded the audience.
Against this backdrop, she said, “we have to focus on the early implementation of the bilateral arrangement of return that we signed with Myanmar” in November 2017.
Sheikh Hasina said Bangladesh is working with Myanmar to commence repatriation of the verified Rohingyas in small batches.
In order to ensure that the process is transparent and voluntary, she mentioned that a series of interactions have been facilitated between the Rohingyas and the authorities of Myanmar. “The experience of the first batch of returnees would be crucial in guiding us in the future and addressing the gaps in the process.”
The prime minister said the pilot repatriation project, if implemented successfully, will keep hopes alive. “I hope the international community will come forward to help the Rohingya returnees reintegrate in Rakhine. The presence of humanitarian and development entities in Rakhine will act as an important confidence-building measure.”
She said the regional countries, especially the ASEAN members, with their close and historic relationship with Myanmar, can take the lead role.
Based on the comprehensive need assessment of the AHA Centre, small community-based projects may be undertaken involving the returnee Rohingyas, she added.
In the meantime, she said, continued international attention is needed to effectively address the root causes of the Rohingya crisis. “Implementation of the Security Council and General Assembly Resolutions on Myanmar is critical in this regard.”
Equally important is maintaining focus on the justice and accountability processes. Unless and until the perpetrators of atrocities are held accountable, the risks of further persecution will remain alive, she said.
“Besides, the Rohingya victims and survivors will not be able to truly reconcile with their past and constructively pursue their future in Myanmar if they do not get justice.”
Sheikh Hasina said Bangladesh is fully committed to the accountability processes, and it is closely working with the ICJ, IIMM, and ICC. “I urge all other member states to cooperate with the international justice mechanisms working in this regard.”
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