The full statement can be accessed in PDF here.
25 September 2017
Urgent APRRN Statement
Less Talk and More Action: Support Bangladesh with Rohingya Crisis
The Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network (APRRN) continues to express grave concern over the constantly evolving humanitarian crisis in Myanmar’s Rakhine State and in Bangladesh. On 24 September 2017, the Inter Sector Coordination Group, comprising UN and humantarian agencies assisting refugees in Bangladesh, estimated that 436,000 people have fled to Bangladesh since the outbreak of violence in northern Rakhine State on 25 August 2017. Around 230,000 of this group are children and 55,770 pregnant and lactating women. Thousands more displaced by ongoing clearance operations in northern Rakhine are still on the move towards Bangladesh. Over the course of just one month, the violence has led to a staggering number of people fleeing, a number which surpasses the total number of refugees fleeing to continental Europe in 2016.
The Rohingya are one of the most persecuted groups on earth and have faced decades of ethnic hatred and discrimination. As a disadvantaged ethnic group, unrecognised as citizens by their government, they have fled Myanmar and sought safe haven in countries such as Bangladesh, Malaysia and India. The current human rights abuses and violence against civilians by Myanmar’s security forces has been described as “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing” by the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, and condemned by rights groups and governments around the world.
The recent influx has overwhelmed Bangladesh which already hosted 300,000 Rohingya prior to the most recent wave of arrivals. The capacity of the Bangladesh government and aid agencies on the ground is under severe pressure as they attempt to respond to the acute needs of children, women and the elderly fleeing the conflict in Rakhine. Reports from the Inter Sector Coordination Group detail the chaos on the ground, including internal movements as refugees search for more suitable locations to settle, and the urgent need for massive scale-up of humanitarian services. Recent floods have further contributed to already dire conditions where limited road access makes effective distribution of aid to all sites difficult.
APRRN recognises and commends the Bangladesh government and local communities for their generosity in responding to the crisis to date. Bangladesh has hosted Rohingya refugees for decades and has provided them with a place of safety. We also welcome Bangladesh’s cooperation in facilitating the operations of international humanitarian agencies. We urge the Bangladesh government to continue providing assistance to the affected population for as long as the situation in Rakhine State remains unresolved.
Despite international and national humanitarian actors and the Bangladesh authorities working tirelessly to respond to this emergency, much greater support is required from the international community. A humanitarian crisis is unfolding in front of our eyes which will undoubtedly have a serious destabilising impact on the entire region unless immediate action is taken.
On 19 September, State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, announced that Myanmar will start the verification process for repatriation of refugees based on criteria agreed by both countries in 1993. State media hinted that the displaced Rohingyas will likely have to assemble in seven designated ‘provisional camps’ in Maungdaw. At the UN General Assembly on 21 September, Sheikh Hasina, Prime Minister of Bangladesh also suggested that ‘safe zones’ could be created inside Myanmar under UN supervision, where Rohingya refugees could return.
APRRN is concerned by references to ‘safe zones’ and ‘provisional camps’ in Myanmar and would like to remind Bangladesh that any repatriation must be based on the principles of voluntariness, safety and dignity. While Rohingya refugees should have the right to return to their places of origin, relocating them into segregated camps in Myanmar would be unacceptable. This view is supported by Human Rights Watch who warns that ‘safe areas’ are rarely safe, even when protected by UN peacekeeping forces. There should not be a repeat of the mid-1990s mass repatriation of 250,000 Rohingya, which was not purely voluntary and was often conducted under coercion and duress.
As such, APRRN makes the following call for action:
To the International Community:
- We urge the international community to apply all possible measures to pressure Myanmar into halting military operations, protecting civilians and ensuring unfettered humanitarian access to Rakhine State, as well as to immediately implement all recommendations of the Rakhine Advisory Commission led by Kofi Annan. Nations cannot stand aside and watch hundreds of thousands of people being forcibly displaced, thousands indiscriminately killed, in a government-sponsored operation amounting to ethnic cleansing.
- We urge the international community to rally around Bangladesh, which has come under extreme pressure in the face of this humanitarian emergency and meet Bangladesh’s pleas for support. There must be urgent funding pledged and surge capacity provided to agencies working on the ground in Bangladesh.
- We urge other neighbouring countries to Myanmar to provide safe passage and protection to refugees who have fled due to violence and well-founded fear of persecution.
To the Bangladesh Government:
- We urge the Bangladesh government to continue its cooperation and collaboration with international organisations, including by granting UNHCR the ability to exercise its full mandate of protection to all Rohingya refugees inside the country.
- We urge the Bangladesh government not to restrict the movement of Rohingya inside Bangladesh, including by confining them to designated camps as they have suggested.
- Repatriation to Myanmar should not be expedited. The principle of voluntariness should be strictly adhered to and refugee returns should only occur under conditions of safety, dignity and guaranteed security.
While APRRN statements are prepared in consultations with APRRN members, they do not necessarily reflect the views of all members.
For media enquiries, please contact:
Evan Jones, Programme Coordinator, Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network
Tel: +66 (0) 2 2342679
Mobile: +66 (0) 972464270