Rohingya Refugee Crisis

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:49 pm on 20th December 2018.

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Photo of Rushanara Ali Rushanara Ali Labour, Bethnal Green and Bow 12:49 pm, 20th December 2018

I could not agree more. I will come on to that. I very much hope that the Government will build the alliance that is needed to get support at the United Nations.

The United Kingdom has a unique responsibility towards Burma. We must use all our relationships, forged over many centuries, to argue for a peaceful settlement to the crisis. We are also the pen holder in the United Nations for Burma. We must apply all the pressure that we can. However, as hon. Friends and others have pointed out, it is not just about our humanitarian response to the 1 million refugees, nor the prevention of future violence, nor even the return of the Rohingya to their homes; ultimately, it is about justice.

Here in the UK, many Members of Parliament have consistently campaigned against the persecution of Rohingya people. On many occasions, we have pleaded with the Prime Minister and successive Foreign Secretaries. We have held parliamentary debates. We have used our platforms publicly to denounce the atrocities. While there have been welcome changes in tone from the Foreign Secretary, and a more critical and proactive stance is being taken, including by his Ministers, this is yet to translate into a stronger policy.

Over the years, there has been little concrete action from the UK Government to solve this issue. In 2017, we warned the Government of increasing tensions in Rakhine state weeks before the brutal military campaign, but little was done to prevent it. When asked in a parliamentary debate last year, the Minister said that if the United Nations determined genocide, then

“of course the UK Government will be the first to be supportive of taking these matters to the International Criminal Court.”—[Official Report, 17 October 2017;
Vol. 629, c. 780.]

Twelve months later, there has still been very little progress. Last November, the Prime Minister called explicitly for more action and said that the humanitarian crisis

“is something for which the Burmese authorities—and especially the military—must take full responsibility.”

She went on to pledge that Britain would

“continue to play a leading role in bringing the international community together…to do everything possible to stop this appalling and inhuman destruction of the Rohingya people.”

The sad reality is that our Government, while strong on providing humanitarian assistance, have not come close to putting real pressure on the Burmese Government and their military leaders. It should not have taken more deaths and displacement to make the international community take notice. This crisis happened on our watch. The UK Government should publicly press the Burmese Government to immediately stop all abuses, remove restrictions on freedom of movement, improve conditions for all Rohingya in Rakhine state, and grant unfettered access to Rakhine state to humanitarian agencies and rights monitors. The UK Government should insist that no repatriation of Rohingya refugees takes place until it is safe to do so. The UK and concerned Governments should call on the Bangladeshi Government to halt their plans to relocate refugees to Bhasan Char and encourage them, instead, to consider alternative, safer and more feasible options for relocating those who are vulnerable in the current camps.

The UK Government must press the Burmese authorities to take steps to address the culture of marginalisation and discrimination of the Rohingya community in Burma and to reform the 1982 citizenship law, which renders the Rohingya stateless and denies them basic human rights. The UK Government must accept the full findings and recommendations of the United Nations fact-finding mission, and they should play a leadership role in pressing the United Nation Security Council to urgently refer the situation in Myanmar to the International Criminal Court so that all crimes, not just the crimes of deportation, can be considered.

The international community must not allow the Burmese military to get away with the slaughter, rape, torture and displacement of the Rohingya people on such a scale that it constitutes genocide. I ask the Minister to address head on the issues of getting the International Criminal Court to bring the criminals to justice. That is vital not only in this instance of genocide but in the prevention of future genocides.

After the holocaust we said “never again.” After the killing fields of Cambodia we said “never again.” After Srebrenica we said “never again.” And after 800,000 people were slaughtered in 100 days in Rwanda we said “never again.” It is time we pledged to end genocide, to work for peace and to bring perpetrators to justice, because genocide continues to occur. This time let us say “never again” and mean it. Let us bring the war criminals to court and give the Rohingya people the justice they deserve.