A special rapporteur of the United Nations says the international community should build a better partnership with Bangladesh and cut off the Myanmar military leadership in dealing with the Rohingya refugee crisis.
“Bangladesh cannot and should not bear this responsibility alone,” Tom Andrews, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar, told a news conference in Dhaka on Sunday.
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“The cause of this crisis and the ultimate resolution of this crisis is not here in Bangladesh, but in Myanmar.”
The Rohingya are an ethnic group, more than 700,000 of whom fled persecution and violence in neighbouring Myanmar in August 2017. Since then, Bangladesh has been sheltering nearly a million refugees in crowded camps near its coast.
Bangladeshi officials say the crowded nation of more than 160 million people is overburdened because of the refugee crisis.
Andrews met with Rohingya refugees, officials of the international aid agencies and Bangladesh officials to review the refugee crisis in the country.
“I will do everything in my capacity to push for a stronger, more coordinated international response to this crisis, including the imposition of pressure on the Myanmar military and for concrete measures to hold the military junta fully accountable for this crisis,” he said.
He said the international community, if necessary, should block sources of revenue Myanmar’s military is receiving. A UN-sponsored investigation in 2018 recommended the prosecution of Myanmar’s top military commanders on charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity for the violence against the Rohingya.
“It’s a large military (in Myanmar) and it’s very formidable, but large militaries take significant resources to supply and sustain. I think that the international community can do a much better job of identifying sources of revenue that are flowing into the coffers of this military junta and perpetuating these atrocities,” he said.
During his mission, the UN envoy also met with refugees relocated to Bhasan Char, a flood-prone island some 60km (37 miles) away from the mainland.
In October this year, the UN and Bangladesh’s government signed an agreement to work together to help relocate Rohingya refugees to the remote island. More than 19,000 Rohingya have already been moved to the island from the cramped camps.
“Nearly every Rohingya person I spoke with on this mission, whether in the Kutupalong camps or on Bhasan Char, wants to return home as soon as they can do so voluntarily, safely, sustainably, and with dignity. They want to go back home,” Andrews said.
He, however, said the relentless assault by the Myanmar military government against its own people as well as systematic clearance in the country’s Rakhine State continued till today.
“This means that the conditions for the safe and sustainable, dignified return of Rohingya to their homeland currently do not exist. It’ll take considerable time and significant efforts to create such conditions in Myanmar,” he said.
‘Deeply concerned’ over school closures
Andrews also said Bangladesh’s decision to close schools for Rohingya refugees risks leaving “an entire generation” of Rohingya children “practically uneducated”.
Bangladesh authorities this week ordered the closure of “unauthorised” education centres in the border camps. The order came during Andrews’s visit.
“I am deeply concerned to have learned of a new policy, promulgated while I was here, that would close all private schools in the camps,” he told reporters.
Bangladesh’s foreign ministry said the order will not affect about 3,000 learning centres for children in camps supported by UNICEF. It claimed the move had been made to halt the operations of schools “promoting radicalism and engaged in illegal activities”.
Angered Rohingya activists in the camps have taken to social media to protest the decision in lieu of public protests, which have become difficult since security was boosted after the murder of a top camp leader in September.
The New York-based Human Rights Watch said about 30,000 children will lose their access to education if Bangladesh does not reverse the closures.