Dhaka Tribune gets the experts to weigh in on the Rohingya issue
Adil Sakhawat

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Deputy Spokesman for the UN Secretary-General Farhan Haq

The United Nations remains very concerned with the situation in Rakhine State. We have repeatedly called on the leaders of Myanmar to avoid at all costs the polarisation between peoples and communities along ethnic or religious lines and to take strong action to stop hate speech, end incitement to violence and promote harmony between the communities.

The United Nations has, through various public and private channels, called on all leaders to act firmly and responsibly in order to maintain a calm and stable atmosphere in Rakhine State. We have strongly urged the government of Myanmar to end its institutionalised discrimination against the Rohingya and other Muslim populations and ensure that their human rights are fully respected and that the longer-term issues of citizenship, identity permits, work permits, and birth registration are adequately addressed.

We are appalled by the humanitarian conditions of the Rohingya and Kaman communities in the internally displaced persons (IDP) camps in Rakhine, where some 130,000 still remain in dire need of continued humanitarian assistance. To help resolve the situation, the United Nations has been supporting bi-communal development projects and interfaith dialogue initiatives involving grassroots and civil society organisations as well as the government. We have been encouraging domestic and international partners to join our effort to help ensure stability, peace and development of all people in Rakhine State.

The UN is working together with the government and key stakeholders to promote peace, democratisation and inclusive development of Myanmar.” 

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UNHCR External Relations Unit’s Farheen Khan 

What is the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees' view of the Rohingya issue?

UNHCR has worked with Myanmar refugees in Bangladesh at the invitation of the Government of Bangladesh since 1993.

It operates in two refugee camps in Cox's Bazar to provide protection and assistance to some 33,000 refugees and advocates with the government for the protection of some 300,000 to 500,000 unregistered Myanmar nationals who live here but do not enjoy the same benefits as refugees.

What challenges does the UNHCR face in Bangladesh?

UNHCR's greatest challenge in Bangladesh are the constraints 

placed on the rights of registered refugees in the camps and the absence of any durable solution for them UNHCR continuously advocates for the improvement of the condition of refugees, both registered and unregistered and hopes the new National Strategy on Myanmar will improve their condition.

What are your objectives regarding the Rohingya?

UNHCR advocates for the provision of international protection to all Rohingya in Bangladesh as their flight to this country qualifies them as refugees.

Our first priority is to ensure international protection for all Rohingya on the territory of Bangladesh pending their acquiring durable solutions and to protect the fundamental principle of non-refoulement which means that those who have fled must not be pushed back to their place of origin.

What types of aid does UNHCR provide to Rohingya refugees?

UNHCR only has access to registered Rohingya, who the Government recognises as refugees. Bangladesh does not recognise the remaining 300,000 - 500,000 Rohingya and currently term them undocumented Myanmar nationals.

Unregistered Rohingya received no recognition or status prior to 2014 and were mistakenly identified as illegal immigrants though their reason for flight was conflict and persecution.

UNHCR says it hopes to integrate refugees into the national health system: Will that work here?

UNHCR's strategy for the future is for the refugees to enjoy a similar level of service as the local population. This is not approved and is under consideration by the relevant Bangladeshi ministries.

Despite humanitarian work being done, why do so many Rohingya complain about inadequate basic services including access to clean water?

There are restrictions placed by the government on the level of assistance that may be provided. Additionally, there are funding constraints that UNHCR faces. In 2016, UNHCR Bangladesh raised only 26% of its total financial needs.

What is the solution to the Rohingya crisis?

The problem requires a political solution. The international community, including the USA and the Dalai Lama have requested Myanmar to grant the Rohingya their rights, but this has been prevented by violent resistance by right-wing extremists.

The Rohingya must be returned their citizenship which was stripped in 1982. 

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Read Next

> Plight of the Rohingyas

> Legal experts: Genocide in Rakhine



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