It is impossible to visit these camps without breaking our hearts with the suffering of the Rohingya people.
First of all, listening to the terrible stories of massive violence – of killings, of rape, of torture, of house or villages burnt – it is probably one of the most tragic stories in relation to the systematic violation of human rights.
I was in North Rakhine State twice in my past capacity as High Commissioner for Refugees, I have no doubt that the Rohingya people have always been one of, if not the, most discriminated people in the world, without any recognition of the most basic rights starting by the recognition of the right of citizenship by their own country – Myanmar.
But, on the other hand, it is also terrible for us to see more than 900,000 people living in these terrible circumstances. When I see the young boys and girls, I remember my own grand-daughters and I imagine what it would be see my grand-daughters living in these conditions.
It is unacceptable that these people who have suffered so much in Myanmar now have to live in the difficult circumstances that these camps inevitably represent. And so, I believe we need to combine a word of deep gratitude to the Government and people of Bangladesh for the fact that they have opened their borders when so many other borders are closed in the world. They have received so generously these people and have provided them with basic protection and support.
But it also necessary to say to the international community that the solidarity expressed until now by that international community, has not been translated in sufficient support to the Rohingya people of Myanmar in Bangladesh.
The response appeal subscribed by all humanitarian agencies – the UN, Red Cross, Red Crescent, NGOs – a response appeal of almost 1 billion dollars is only funded at 26%. That means that we do not have the capacity to provide the kind of basic education that would be necessary. That means that malnutrition is prevailing in the camp. That means that the conditions of water and sanitation are far from being ideal. That means that when you look at the Monsoon, the possible cyclones, we need to recognize that with all the gigantic efforts that were made by the NGOs, but especially by the refugees themselves, by the UN agencies, by the Government of Bangladesh, by the army of Bangladesh, even with everything that was done we are not out of the woods. We still are very worried with the potential consequences of the Monsoon, if things get more dramatic in relation to the lives of the refugees here.
And so, my appeal to the international community is to step up to the plate and to substantially increase the financial support to all those working in Bangladesh to protect and assist the Rohingya refugees.
In this situation there is a remarkable example that I want to underline with the expression of my enormous gratitude to Jim Kim and the World Bank. Obviously, we insist on the right of return of this population to Myanmar but only when the conditions are there for them to live in full dignity in their own country. But in between, a lot needs to be done to increase the resilience of the camp and to support the local community. We are not able to do it. I am extremely grateful to Jim Kim that he has mobilized the World Bank and will be able to announce to you an extremely important contribution of the World Bank both to the Rohingya refugees and to the local community in order to allow them not only, to have access assistance that is needed but to build the resilience for the very dramatic challenges that they face.
And so, it is with enormous pleasure that I pass the microphone to the President of the World Bank with again the expression of my enormous gratitude and appreciation for this, which has been the most important, commitment of the international community until now in relation to the Rohingya refugees.
Question on the Memorandum of Understanding signed between the UN / Government of Myanmar – on citizenship
SG: I reply very easily. One of our concerns, and one of the reasons we are in such close contact with the government of Myanmar, as it is asked by the whole of the international community to put pressure on Myanmar, is exactly for Myanmar to deliver the rights that are essential for these people to live in dignity – the right to move freely, and I remember when going there, to move from one village to the other they had to ask permission and then they were harassed by the police or by others; the right to have property and to have their property given back, if it was taken in this situation; the right to access the labour market; the right for their children to have all degrees of education accessible; the right to access to health and also, one of the central questions we have been discussing as they are stateless, we recognize that every stateless person has a right to a citizenship. We know this is a very difficult issue for the government of Myanmar and we know that Myanmar will probably not accept everything at the same time. That is why we are very keen on a number of concrete rights for the people as we go on stressing that, in our opinion, the Rohingya should be considered citizens of Myanmar.
So, we are not abandoning in any way the interest of the Rohingya people. On the contrary, what we are trying to do is to explore the narrow path that today exists in relation to the international community with Myanmar to try to obtain as much as possible in relation to what everybody recognizes is a situation that needs to be overcome. The present situation, with all these people here, in these tragic circumstances and as if Myanmar had no responsibility for them is not acceptable. We need to push and we will be pushing in the right direction and fully in line with the principles that have always been the principles of the United Nations in relation to the needs of every citizen to have a country they can call theirs.
Q: On the difference between 2008 and 2018.
SG: First of all, in 2008, when I came to Cox’s Bazar and at the same time, I went to Northern Rakhine State twice, the Rohingya population was as I said, extremely discriminated against, very probably the most discriminated population in the world. But, at that time, there was not a massive violence against them, forcing hundreds of thousands to move so quickly. Now, we had after the operations that took place we had what has been called, and I believe it is the right word to express it, an ethnic cleansing, in large areas of Myanmar in relation to the Rohingya population.
So, we have this tragedy here in Bangladesh. We need to thank the government of Bangladesh but we need to express international solidarity as it was done by the World Bank. As Jim Kim has said, it is not only the responsibility of Bangladesh, it is the responsibility of the whole world. Especially at a moment when this example of generosity of keeping borders open is not followed everywhere at the same time.
So, we need to do everything possible to support Bangladesh. But as you said, this cannot last forever. So, pressure on Myanmar to create the conditions on the ground, which means a massive investment, not only physical investment on reconstruction, but investment in reconciliation to make communities respect each other, to end this hate speech that has been so unfortunately spread in Myanmar against the Rohingya, creating the conditions for these people to be able to go back in dignity, in safety and voluntarily is our objective and we will do everything to make it possible. But, in between, we need to be able do more to support these people and to support the local communities and that it why this initiative of the World Bank is so vital.
Q: On Memorandum of Understanding.
SG: We had two very interesting dialogues with the group that is expressing that position. We understand their concerns. The concern comes from the fact that the name Rohingya is not written in the text, as the name Bengali Muslim in not written in the text.
So, if we have to make an agreement, or create a common paper with the government of Myanmar, to start paving the way for rights to be recognized for these people, one thing that was inevitable is that we could not use our designation and they could not use their designation. But that does not mean that this is not the Rohingya people for us, the UN.
So, I believe this Memorandum of Understanding is a first step on the way of progressive recognition of the rights of these people and so it would be a huge mistake obviously to destroy this first step. The road is a long road but every road starts with a first step and this is the kind of concession that was possible to obtain at the present moment from Myanmar. Let’s test the sincerity of this concession and let’s move on in relation to the full rights of the people.
Q: On responsibility for failing Rohingya? On radicalization?
SG: I think it was not the UN. I think it was first of all the responsibility of Myanmar. Sometimes people tend to forget who was responsible for what happened. So, let’s be clear about where the responsibility is. The responsibility is in Myanmar. But it is true the whole of the international community was not able to stop. It is not difficult to understand. For the first time since 1986 I wrote an official letter to the Security Council in order to make sure that this item was on the agenda of the Security Council. It was not easy, because as you know, the international community is very divided in relation to this issue. So, obviously, we all failed to a certain extent, and I assume my part of responsibility on this.
But the responsibility of the crimes committed in Myanmar needs to be attributed to those who committed those crimes and we should not forget that because if not we are mixing everything up.
On radicalization, a team of our office of counter terrorism came to Cox’s Bazar recently. I have to say that they were quite impressed by the fact that the resilience of the Rohingya population is remarkable, and they did not detect within the Rohingya population a particular trend for radicalization.
But it is obvious that this situation here is a situation that can contribute substantially to radicalization, to the promotion of violent extremism, and that is another reason why – I am not blaming the Rohingya of course, because I am not talking about the Rohingya – I am talking about the situation in general in the world. This can be a pretext for radicalization in any part of the world and we need to remove this pretext and to remove this pretext is to make sure that this population sees their rights respected.
Q: On Memorandum of Understanding, and on island.
SG: First of all, in relation to the MOU, I think I have already clearly responded. This was a first step,in which the UNDP and the UNHCR tried to force the government of Myanmar to recognize a number of rights to try to pave the way for a potential future return. It must be considered not as a final agreement on return or anything of the sort.
I was informed that the Government of Bangladesh is investing in creating conditions for the development of one island; as the silt moves new islands are being formed in the coast of Bangladesh. So, there is this project. Obviously, UNHCR has been in contact with the government and offered to do an assessment, to see when these works are concluded how the conditions exist in order to allow for a possible important support of that infrastructure to the Rohingyas in Myanmar.
But, for the moment, we have no more information except that indeed the Government is investing in this island to create facilities that can serve I believe also several other purposes. We see with a lot of interest any initiative of the Government of Bangladesh in this regard, because the living conditions here are of course, as you have seen, extremely difficult.