UN Headquarters, New York, 27 September 2018
Mr. Secretary General, Commissioner Stylianides, distinguished panellists, excellencies, ladies and gentlemen.
The humanitarian challenges we face as an international community today, sadly, stretch the length and breadth of the globe, and perhaps none has been more rapid in impact in the last twelve months than the plight of the Rohingya people, both in Myanmar and then in Bangladesh.
In the last year, more than 725,000 Rohingya refugees have fled to Bangladesh from Myanmar, following the latest outbreak of violence in August 2017. This was the world’s fastest growing refugee crisis, by the world’s largest stateless population, and has led to Bangladesh now playing host to the world’s largest refugee camp.
As humanitarians, and as members of a global humanity, we cannot turn away from the reality that the Rohingya people have been subjected to extreme, unthinkable violence in the context of decades of discrimination and persecution. We are currently witnessing the newest chapter of what has been a long and tragic history for the Rohingya people.
In my role as Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator of the UN, I visited Myanmar in April this year to witness first-hand the plight of the Rohingya people and meet with affected communities, humanitarian partners and political leaders to better understand the challenges facing Rakhine in particular.
The men, women and children I visited in communities across Rakhine were clearly deeply affected, scarred by a history of conflict, many trapped by authorities in squalid camps and all scared and uncertain about their future.
I was deeply moved by my conversations with women in camps in central Rakhine who cannot access schools for their children nor healthcare for their families but persist every day to eke out an existence while cut off by the State.
In northern Rakhine I witnessed the burned out Rohingya villages and spoke with clearly shaken and scared communities. These are a people in dire need of our assistance, protection and support.
There is an ongoing humanitarian and human rights crisis on both sides of the Myanmar-Bangladesh border, and for this reason we must not look at this only through the lens of those who have been forced to flee. The roughly 600,000 Rohingya who remain in Rakhine State continue to face discrimination, marginalization, and hardship. Ongoing restrictions on their freedom of movement and limited access to livelihoods and essential services such as healthcare and education mean that most remain in dire need of humanitarian assistance. We cannot leave them behind.
In northern Rakhine – the epicentre of last year’s violence - the UN and international partners still have very limited access to more than 200,000 stateless Rohingya, cutting a vital humanitarian lifeline. Some initial steps have been taken to allow limited access, but this must be expanded to allow all those in need, regardless of location or ethnic identity, to be supported. Until then, the Security Council and the Secretary-General’s calls for unfettered humanitarian access have not been met.
In central Rakhine, more than 128,000 people – the majority of them Rohingya – remain confined in deplorable conditions in camps more than six years after the 2012 outbreak of violence, and there has been almost no tangible progress in enabling them to return to their places of origin. I visited some of these camps in April this year and I was shocked by the appalling conditions faced by people who suffer from severe movement restrictions and who cannot access basic services.
There is no doubt that the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh are following very closely what is happening to their community in Central Rakhine, and that concrete immediate steps towards respecting their rights are an indispensable part of creating the conditions where refugees may choose to return in safety and in dignity.
As the Rakhine Advisory Commission noted, there is a pressing need for the Government to ensure dignified living conditions in the camps in Rakhine as well as planning for their closure. This must be undertaken immediately and simultaneously with the steps necessary to ensure freedom of movement, access to services, and durable solutions to displacement. Existing segregation and marginalisation must be actively dismantled not duplicated. The men, women, and children in these camps deserve to live, not just to survive.
The solutions to the current crisis lie in Myanmar, and with the Myanmar Government. Despite statements that infrastructure is ready, the conditions in Rakhine are fundamentally not yet conducive to the voluntary repatriation of Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh, as the causes of their flight in the first instance have simply not been substantively and concretely addressed. This is the obligation of the Myanmar Government, and though we stand ready to support such efforts, they must take real steps forward, clearly demonstrating a commitment to immediate change on the ground.
This evidence of real change is what all reports indicate those refugees in Bangladesh are waiting for, and what the Rohingya still in Rakhine have every right to. Ultimately the Rohingya people must themselves make the critical decisions about their future, their voices remaining central to our decision-making and guiding our advocacy. In support of this, the holistic implementation of the recommendations from the Rakhine Advisory Commission remains the best option for durable solutions – including addressing the issues of citizenship, freedom of movement, removing discriminatory barriers to accessing livelihoods and essential services, and closure of the camps.
Our focus must remain clearly on both of the inter-related challenges before us. In Bangladesh we must support and adequately fund a humanitarian response to a refugee crisis of enormous size and scope – currently this response is only 38 per cent funded.
At the same time, we must work on the ground to transform the plight of the Rohingya people – and all ethnic minorities – in Myanmar. We cannot allow the conditions that led to the crisis today to continue, and must do all in our collective power to support and foster real change and a better and dignified future for all.
- UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
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