Washington DC: The scale of Myanmar’s refugee crisis is immense: more than 600,000 have been displaced from their homes since 25 August 2017. The conditions are tough. People are suffering.
This was pointed out at a press briefing here on 7 November 2017 by Simon Henshaw, the US Acting Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration. He led a delegation to Myanmar and Bangladesh last week. He was there from the 29 October to 4 November.
The delegation included the US Deputy Assistant Secretary Scott Busby of the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor; Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary Tom Vajda of the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs; and Office Director Patricia Mahoney of the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs. The US State department Spokesperson, Heather Nauert also joined the delegation for the final leg of the trip to visit Cox’s Bazar, Dhaka, and refugee camps in Bangladesh.
Henshaw had a series of meetings, was able to assess the situation on the ground, speak with some government officials, also aid groups, and some human rights workers who are taking a lot of reports from the Rohingya refugees.
Henshaw told media-persons that the US has urged the Burmese Government to act to restore the rule of law, protect local populations, investigate alleged human rights abuses and violations, and to hold those responsible accountable.
During his tour, Henshaw said that many refugees, who were in tears, narrated accounts of seeing their villages burned, their relatives killed in front of them. It was tough to take. Some recalled being shot as they fled. Despite the trauma, many expressed a strong desire to return to their homes in Myanmar, provided their safety, security, and rights could be guaranteed.
In Myanmar, the Us delegation met with government officials and Rohingya and ethnic Rakhine community leaders, including a visit to a camp for people who have been internally displaced inside Myanmar.
Henshaw said that the Burmese Government has been urged to act to restore the rule of law, protect local populations, investigate alleged human rights abuses and violations, and to hold those responsible accountable.
Henshaw further said that the US welcomes the Burmese government’s plans for repatriation and encourage them to implement these plans as soon as possible, emphasizing the importance of creating safe conditions that would allow refugees to voluntarily return to their villages and land.
The US delegation also traveled to Bangladesh where it met with government officials, international organizations, and NGOs, and visited refugee camps near Cox’s Bazar. What we saw in the camps was shocking.
Henshaw went on to underline appreciation for the generosity and commitment from the Government of and people of Bangladesh and the humanitarian partners, including the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the International Red Cross Red Crescent Movement, the Organization for Migration, the UN World Food Program, and the United Nations Children’s Fund, and said they are all working together to provide emergency assistance to the refugees. The situation requires a lot more work, he said adding the U.S. was one of the first to pledge funds to support international organizations in the crisis, and our commitment has been followed by generous contributions from other donors. However, more is needed.
On being asked whether or not full access was granted or there are still parts of the region he couldn’t go to? And also whether he got some assurances on when the program to repatriate Rohingyas will be implemented? Henshaw replied: full access has not been granted to press and international NGOs in northern Rakhine State. He further said that the Burmese Government appear committed to start a repatriation program, but it was in the early stages. And it’s very important for the US that that program not only creates safe conditions so that refugees will want to return voluntarily, but also assure that refugees go back to their villages and land, that their houses be restored in the areas where the villages were burned, and that political reconciliation take place.