The Irrawaddy

USAID Official Stresses Need For ‘Voluntary’ Repatriation of Rohingya

DHAKA — USAID Administrator Mark Green reiterated the United States’ desire to see “voluntary repatriation” of Rohingya refugees to Myanmar under safe conditions during a visit to Bangladesh, where some 1 million Rohingya are taking shelter.

“The United States’ position is that we support and want the voluntary repatriation of the Rohingya to Burma under safe conditions. That has continued to be our position,” Green told reporters on Tuesday after visiting Rohingya refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar, calling Myanmar by another name.

“I wish to listen, learn and bring some recommendations and some information back to the secretary of state,” he said.

Green is traveling to Bangladesh, Myanmar and Thailand from May 13 to 23 with the US aid agency’s senior deputy assistant administrator for Asia, Gloria Steele, and US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees and Migration Mark Storella.

The US Embassy in Dhaka said that while in Bangladesh and Myanmar Green plans to visit several sites where the US government is providing humanitarian assistance to displaced Rohingya and affected host communities. It said Green would also be meeting with Bangladesh government officials.

In Myanmar, the embassy said, he will meet with civil society representatives, students and youth leaders, and Myanmar government officials to discuss the steps needed to address the crises in Rakhine State and violence in other parts of the country.

The embassy said Green will then visit Bangkok from May 21 to 22 to meet with USAID mission directors from across Asia to discuss the implementation of US President Donald Trump’s Indo-Pacific strategy.

Green said most of his time in Bangladesh and Myanmar would be spent “fact finding, learning, listening” in order to report back to newly appointed US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

He said he found the Rohingya he met to be “tremendously courageous,” “hopeful” and “optimistic.”

Green also announced an additional $44 million in US humanitarian assistance to meet the urgent needs of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh and people affected by violence and conflict in Myanmar. The funds bring total US humanitarian assistance for displaced people in and from Myanmar to more than $299 million since the beginning of the 2017 fiscal year, the US Embassy in Dhaka said.

Since August, nearly 700,000 Rohingya have fled violence in Rakhine State for Bangladesh, which was already hosting more than 300,000 Rohingya who had fled past bouts of communal violence in Myanmar.

Another 8.3 million people in Myanmar live in areas affected by conflict, in Rakhine and elsewhere.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provide direct technical and scientific support to prevent, detect, and respond to disease outbreaks and other major public health issues facing the Rohingya.

Earlier this year, the centers provided laboratory training and supplies that allowed the Bangladesh Health and Family Welfare Ministry to confirm a diphtheria outbreak in the Cox’s Bazar camps.

  Separately, a joint working group between Bangladesh and Myanmar on Rohingya repatriation will hold its next meeting on Thursday in Dhaka, according to Bangladeshi media.

At the group’s first meeting on Jan. 15 in Myanmar, the two countries agreed to the “physical arrangements” for the repatriation of Rohingya “forcibly displaced from Myanmar.”

The neighbors signed a repatriation deal in November. So far, Myanmar has confirmed 878 refugees as former residents from an initial list of 8,032 volunteers provided by Bangladesh in February and is still vetting the others. None of them has returned to Myanmar as of yet.

Meanwhile, at Bangladesh’s third Universal Periodic Review before the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on Monday, the country’s law minister, Anisul Huq, said many countries were ignoring the plight of refugees.

“In such a global context, I take pride as I represent Bangladesh, which has opened its border for the forcibly displaced nationals of Myanmar,” he said in a prepared statement.

“Despite constraints, our people embraced the helpless Rohingyas, who had been forced to flee from their homes in Myanmar,” he added. “We have been providing temporary shelter to about 1.1 million Rohingyas who are victims of [the] worst kind of human rights violations in Myanmar.”

Huq said Bangladesh has been expediting the registration and visa applications of international non-governmental organizations, noting that the number of such groups working in Cox’s Bazar has jumped from 15 in August to 122 as of this month.

“To ensure decongestion in the camps and better facilitation of humanitarian assistance, we are now developing Bhashan Char [island], where livelihood opportunities will also be created for the Rohingyas pending their return to Myanmar,” he said.

The minister added that, “as a party to [the] Rome Statute, we remain fully supportive to the activities of the International Criminal Court. We also support the Kampala Amendment to the Rome Statute.”

The New Age, a Dhaka daily, reported on May 8 that the Hague-based court had asked Bangladesh to provide it with observations and evidence for use in deciding whether it has jurisdiction to investigate Myanmar’s “expulsion” of Rohingya.