US Favors Regional Approach to Rohingya Issue

By Lalit K Jha 10 October 2012

The United States on Tuesday said it favored a “regional approach” to solving the Rohingya crisis that has rendered hundreds and thousands of Muslim people displaced and subjected to violence and human rights abuses over the past few decades.

“As the Burmese government works to address the underlying causes of ethnic conflict, we believe a regional approach is necessary to address mixed flows of refugees and migrants by land and sea, and ensure that those fleeing are treated humanely,” Kelly Clements, the Deputy-Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, said.

At a meeting of George Soros’ Open Society Foundation and Refugees International, a Washington-based think-tank, Clements, who recently travelled to the region as part of a US delegation, observed that solutions to this protracted displacement appear increasingly elusive.

“I noticed a definite increase in tension and desperation since my last trip in 2011, and an escalation in humanitarian need. School enrollment is down as parents pull children from classes to become income earners, and malnutrition rates exceed emergency levels and continue to rise,” she said.

“Unfortunately, at the same time, organizations are facing greater obstacles to help ameliorate the situation. In our field visits to the official camps, refugees demonstrated for the right to nationality, highlighted human rights violations, and advocated for more services and education for their children. Outside the camps, the undocumented Rohingya population suffers even more without access to school, health care or decent shelter,” Clements said.

While rising international awareness is important to improving the lives of the Rohingya, the US will continue to work closely with Burma, Bangladesh and the international community to deepen the commitment to national and regional dialogues, she said. “Our commitment to resolving this intractable problem is clear,” she said, adding that she hoped this would not take another 20 years.

Clements said during her recent trip to the region—which included Burma and Bangladesh—that the US delegation focused specifically on the challenges resulting from the aftermath of the June violence. According to the US official, much needs to be done: to reduce tensions, to improve the humanitarian situation, and to work toward a sustainable and just solution for all those who have suffered from the conflict and longer-term deprivation of rights.

Some of the tough issues to be addressed, she said, include: lasting security and stability; freedom of movement for both Rakhines and Rohingyas; protection; and unimpeded humanitarian access and assistance to meet basic immediate needs.

“We explored how the international community can assist the Burmese government in long-term recovery efforts and the development of a path to citizenship for those Rohingya with claims. Peace is possible in Rakhine State only through economic development, poverty alleviation and ensuring basic rights for residents,” she said.

The United States, she said, has been a very strong advocate for national reconciliation as Burma undertakes democratic and political reform.

Clements said the US has urged Bangladesh to register some 200,000 undocumented Rohingyas and improve their living conditions, as well as those of the Bangladeshi community that hosts them. “The needs continue to be great in the Cox’s Bazar district, one of the poorest in the country,” she said.