THE United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi has told the Security Council that it must act to ensure security and respect for human rights in Rakhine State of Burma (Myanmar), as his Assistant High Commissioner visited the troubled region.
Grandi addressed the UN Security Council on Thursday, highlighting that a lack of international cooperation has meant the number of forcibly displaced persons worldwide is approaching 66 million – up from 42 million in 2009 when his predecessor last addressed the 15-member council.
The Commissioner opened his speech by recounting he was in Bangladesh on the Burmese border several weeks ago, which he described as the “most rapid refugee exodus” since the mid-1990s and a “stark illustration” of the failure to address root causes of conflict.
Failure by the Council to prevent conflict and provide sustainable piece had created “human tragedy on a dramatic scale,” he said.
More than 607,000 refugees have fled Burma into Cox’s Bazar in neighbouring Bangladesh since Aug 25, when Rohingya militants launched attacks on Burmese security forces sparking so-called “clearing operations” across the Rakhine.
Burma’s Tatmadaw army has now been accused of arson, extrajudicial killings and rape.
On Thursday, Grandi praised refugee-hosting states “particularly those neighbouring conflict zones” like Bangladesh for keeping their borders open and “generously hosting refugees”. Some 800,000 refugees from Burma are now residing in the impoverished South Asian nation.
“But certain states – often those least impacted by refugee flows, and often wealthy ones – have closed borders, restricting access to asylum and deterring entry,” he added, following comments last month where he criticised Europe, the US and Australia for having particularly unwelcoming asylum policies.
In Burma, the UNHCR has called for the return of Rohingya refugees to their homes, with Grandi asserting that security, “establishment of respect for human rights” and progress on granting the stateless Muslim minority citizenship were “essential pre-requisites” before this could happen.
“It is critical that the UN, Asean and the international community at large work constructively to assist both countries,” he said. “UNHCR stands ready to provide support and expertise, including through the Joint Working Group discussed in bilateral talks between Bangladesh and Myanmar.”
Safe and dignified return
The UNHCR’s Assistant High Commissioner for Protection Volker Türk, meanwhile, reiterated the need for “unrestricted humanitarian access” to communities in need in Rakhine State during a two-day visit to Burma this week.
Türk met with high-level ministers in the Burmese capital of Naypyitaw, emphasising the need for the government to guarantee a safe environment in the Rakhine where “all communities” were protected.
International organisations should be granted “unrestricted access”, he said, in order to provide “life-saving aid and build confidence among communities in need.”
In late September, 18 international humanitarian organisations including Oxfam and Save the Children demanded that Burma provide greater access to affected populations across the region, expressing concern that an approved Red Cross humanitarian effort would be inadequate.
Türk also urged the Burmese government to recognise Rohingyas’ right of return and for their “safe, voluntary and sustainable repatriation to their places of origin.” Naypyitaw said in September torched Rohingya villages have now become “government-managed land.”
Bangladesh, meanwhile, has called the situation in Cox’s Bazar “untenable” and for Burmese refugees to be allowed to return.
Last week, Bangladeshi ambassador to the UN Shameem Ahsan said that “it is of paramount importance that Myanmar delivers on its recent promises and works towards safe, dignified, voluntary return of its nationals back to their homes in Myanmar.”
Nevertheless, he added, “despite claims to the contrary, violence in Rakhine state has not stopped. Thousands still enter on a daily basis.”