Remains strongly committed to finding a solution to Rohingya crisis, says Australian envoy
Australian High Commissioner to Bangladesh Jeremy Bruer on Thursday said his country greatly respects Bangladesh’s independent foreign policy towards its engagement in various global initiatives, noting that Australia never asks anybody to make a choice.
"We welcome that approach. We greatly respect Bangladesh's independent foreign policy approach. We would never ask anybody to make a choice," he said recalling the foreign policy established by Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman - Friendship to all, malice to none.
The high commissioner made the remarks while responding to questions at "DCAB Talk" organized virtually by the Diplomatic Correspondents Association, Bangladesh (DCAB) highlighting issues related to regional geopolitics.
Issues related to Quad (Australia, India, Japan and the US), China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and Indo-Pacific Strategy (IPS) came up at the event apart from bilateral and Rohingya issues.
Bangladesh has already joined the China-led BRI and is interested in economic aspects of any global initiative like the IPS.
DCAB President Pantho Rahaman and its General Secretary AKM Moinuddin also spoke.
The envoy said Australia has previously benefited from China's economic growth and hopes that all countries of the region can do the same.
Asked about the kind of security cooperation Australia is seeking from Bangladesh, Bruer said Australia and Bangladesh share vast sea resources and would work together to harness the possibilities.
He mentioned that the sea resources must be accessed in a sustainable way.
The envoy said Bangladesh has been a very responsible nation regarding international security, including its active involvement in sending peacekeepers in large numbers to UN missions. "Australia and Bangladesh can collaborate on this front, too."
High Commissioner Bruer said Quad is not an alliance, but a forum to share ideas for the prosperity and resilience of the region.
At this stage, he said, Covid cooperation, vaccination, and other regional challenges are being discussed.
Responding to a question, the high commissioner said they want to see a secure and prosperous region and countries like Bangladesh will hopefully benefit from it.
US president Joe Biden will host the first ever in-person summit of the leaders of the Quad group of countries on September 24 in Washington DC, the White House announced on Monday.
The envoy said Australia wants to see the region resilient and able to sustain strongly without standing in the way of what other countries are doing as it respects the sovereignty of all.
Asked whether Australia has any plan to share Covid-19 vaccine doses with Bangladesh, High Commissioner Bruer said their focus is on the immediate neighbourhood apart from extending cooperation through the Covax facility.
Australia is delivering 500,000 Covid-19 vaccine doses to Indonesia, as part of its partnership with close neighbour and strategic partner while responding to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Australia has now shared over 2.5 million doses with the Indo-Pacific region, as part of a total commitment to share 20 million doses by mid-2022.
Australia’s contribution of $130 million to the Covax Advance Market Commitment also supports the vaccine needs of Indonesia and other eligible countries.
In addition, Australia has a commitment of $100 million contribution to the Quad Vaccine Partnership with the US, Japan and India.
High Commissioner Bruer said his country remains strongly committed to finding a solution to the Rohingya crisis and help Bangladesh manage the situation.
“We remain strongly committed,” he said, adding that Australia will continue to help Bangladesh and the host community.
The high commissioner said the Rohingya issue is a massive humanitarian crisis and Australia will continue to help Bangladesh’s efforts towards a solution.
Highlighting Australia’s commitment in humanitarian and disaster response, he said since 2017, Australia has provided over $270 million in humanitarian assistance to Rohingya and host communities in Cox’s Bazar.
“We provided $79.7 million last year [2020-21], including $10 million in emergency assistance following the recent fire in the camps,” said the envoy.
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Bangladesh continues to bear the burden of over 1.1 million Rohingyas as no repatriation took place over the last four years amid “lack of initiative” from the Myanmar side with “inadequate steps” by the international community, officials in Dhaka said.
The last exodus began on 25 August 2017, when violence broke out in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, forcing thousands of Rohingyas to seek shelter in Bangladesh.
Bangladesh had handed over a list of 840,000 Rohingyas to Myanmar for verification but the verification process by the Myanmar side was very slow, Dhaka says.
The repatriation attempt failed twice in November 2018 and August 2019 amid Rohingyas' lack of trust in the Myanmar government.
Bangladesh and Myanmar signed the repatriation deal on November 23, 2017.
On January 16, 2018, Bangladesh and Myanmar signed a document on ‘Physical Arrangement’, which was supposed to facilitate the return of Rohingyas to their homeland.
High Commissioner Bruer highlighted the growing relationship between the two countries and hoped that it will be strengthened further as the two countries are set to celebrate 50 years of diplomatic relations next year.
On Wednesday, Bangladesh and Australia signed Trade and Investment Framework Arrangement or TIFA to open more opportunities between the two countries.