Refugees and Human Rights

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:51 pm on 24th January 2018.

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Photo of Anne Main Anne Main Conservative, St Albans 2:51 pm, 24th January 2018

Given my role as chair of the all-party group on Bangladesh, I will confine my remarks in this short time to the experience of those fleeing persecution in Burma and living in Cox’s Bazar. Emily Thornberry seemed to imply that the Government needed to get their finger out, as if this were something that had just happened. I think the House needs a little history lesson. The first major push against the Rohingya was in 1978. Then the Burma Citizenship Act of 1982 left them out of the list of 135 ethnic minority communities, thus denying them their state—so this has been going on for a very long time. In 1992, their political party was also outlawed. I understand that by that point 47 individuals—four of them women—from the Rohingya community had served as MPs in the Burmese Parliament.

This process has, then, been going on for an extremely long time. Those of us who have visited the sites and camps—right hon. and hon. Members from both sides of the House—have seen the atrocious conditions these people are being forced to live in. We would all accept that a basic human right is the freedom to worship as we see fit. The one thing that joins the Rohingya in solidarity with their brothers and sisters in Bangladesh is their religion. Unfortunately—it is a sad story to tell—the Buddhist community is complicit in and accepting of the driving out of the Muslim population that are the Rohingya. Yes, some Hindus have been forced out as well, but overwhelmingly it is the Rohingya, who are Muslims, who are being driven out. It is that link—of humanity and religion—that opens the arms of Bangladesh.

I am pleased that repatriation is no longer being considered, because the memorandum of understanding did not mention the word “Rohingya”. How can there be no voice for the Rohingya at the negotiating table? It is totally unacceptable that the oppressors, who are land-mining the border and driving people out with machine guns, and who have denied these people their rights since 1982, should be divvying up the role of the Rohingya and their future. It is no surprise that there have been marches and resistance on the camps to any talk of repatriation. How can anyone accept being asked to go back to a country where their existence has been denied since 1982? That needs to be dealt with as much as anything.