Rohingya Refugee Crisis

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:11 pm on 20th December 2018.

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Photo of Anne Main Anne Main Conservative, St Albans 1:11 pm, 20th December 2018

I am not sure how that law could be repealed, although I completely agree, and the fact that those people do not exist in law means that they will never have legal protection. I join the hon. Gentleman’s call for our Government to do more. I am aware that these things are difficult and that the soft voice of diplomacy must be exercised, but sometimes there needs to be an end.

As I was saying, I do not think anyone can dispute that this is genocide. Perhaps it is just me and I do not understand the legal terms of this, but the actus reus includes killing members of the group, causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group, deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part, and imposing measures that are intended to prevent births within the group. All those things are happening, but who is being held accountable? I say again: let us try to bring that charge of genocide; let us shame the world and those people who would exercise their veto. Oxfam has said that it agrees with the findings in the UN fact-finding mission’s report. There are no independent and impartial courts in Burma, and with the military treated as above the law, the international community should step in to ensure justice and accountability for the systematic rape, torture and murder of Rohingya refugees.

These are the worst crimes. The 1998 Rome statute of the International Criminal Court defines crimes again humanity, when committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack against any civilian populations, as any of the following acts: murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation or forcible transfer of population, imprisonment, torture, grave forms of sexual violence, persecution, enforced disappearance of persons, and the crime of apartheid—all things that the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow referred to today. She has seen them happening, I have seen them happening, Members across the House have seen them happening—there is no dispute. These are crimes against humanity. This is a genocide. Today on this, the quietest day of the year, although we are not standing up and saying “this House commands whoever is in charge to try to make a charge of genocide” I would love there to be a vote. But we are not voting and there are not enough of us here to do that anyway. But I think the sentiment of the House says exactly that.

The Rohingya are crossing because they are being driven out and fear for their lives. They are crossing while being shot in the back and legs to drive them faster across in their flight. They are crossing because they are being persecuted, denied citizenship and, as Mr Dhesi pointed out, they have no recognition in law. They are being denied land and livelihood. They are crossing dangerous borders strewn with landmines to escape from burnt homes, abductions, brutal beatings, mutilation, murder and rape. They are crossing because they are fearful of being obliterated, erased because of who they are and what they believe. Because they are Muslims and they are Rohingya they have no safe place in Myanmar, and it is no surprise that none of them wants to go back.

A year on there has been a terrible harvest in the camps as a result of those atrocities. That harvest is babies, born as a result of rape and violence. It has been estimated—I was talking to the new high commissioner in this country—that an average of 60 babies a day are being born in those camps. Most reports acknowledge that we do not know how many babies have been born as a result of rape, due to secrecy and the desire to hide what people see as the shameful stigma of violation. When we visited the camp, it was estimated that up to 50% of all women there were pregnant, although most reports acknowledge that it is nearly impossible to know how many thousands of pregnant women there are. Aid workers have been searching the camps for young pregnant Rohingya girls, some barely in their teens.

Reports say that only one in five births in the camps are delivered in health centres. That is not because there are no health centres, difficult though such facilities are to access; there is regular reporting of hidden births and self-conducted abortions. Those who have visited the camps have seen the ankle-deep mud and the conditions, and young girls who have been brutalised and raped are experiencing self-induced abortions, because of the shame of carrying a child that will be forever a burden on their family. For those who have not gone down that route, pregnancies due to rape have also led to reports of baby abandonment.

Aid agencies are working to provide care and support for young pregnant women and abandoned newborn babies. As I said to the high commissioner, I want to know what is happening to those children who are born in the no-man’s land of being stateless. They are born vulnerable to exploitation, being sent into prostitution and sexual exploitation, they are disappearing and even being sent to a dreadful death in those camps as a result of people not knowing they exist. We need to push for the crimes against those babies, and their mothers, to be punished, and that is why we must make a stand on the world stage. The mothers and those babies are victims. Some 55% of Rohingya refugees are children, and 160,000 people in the camps are four years old or younger. Many families told us that they had lost key male relatives to murder and enforced disappearances after the militia swooped on homes and carted the men and boys away.

As the hon. Lady said, Bangladesh has been commended by many NGOs for its generosity to the Rohingya, and praised by groups for its constructive engagement with Myanmar. However, Myanmar is yet to deliver safe, voluntary and dignified conditions. It has not guaranteed citizenship rights for those who return, and the Rohingya are rightly fearful of return. Indeed, some have returned—some are boomerang Rohingya, if that is the right way of putting it. They have gone back, trusted in warm words, only to find the same thing happening again. No trust is left at all.

UNHCR and the United Nations Development Programme are yet to be granted full access to Rakhine state to see the conditions, and people cannot and must not go back to conditions that in effect will be an isolated internment camp. That is not sanctuary; that is imprisonment. However, the international community does not always step up. The UN joint response plan for the Rohingya is still seriously underfunded—at present, it is 70% funded, and about $250 million short of what is needed. The USA has contributed 40% of the fund, which is $277 million. As the hon. Lady said, this country has sent a generous contribution of $84 million, but the European Commission has provided only 7% of the fund at $49 million. The European Union should examine its conscience and provide a fair share of funding to help to shoulder the enormous burden that is afflicting Bangladesh.

We cannot just sit by and allow this issue to be shuffled off into two column inches tomorrow. The House will speak today. It may not have as loud a voice as it did yesterday, but its intent is far stronger and its commitment to justice will not go away. If next year we are here again, we should hold our heads in shame and silence for all those who will have died in the time that it has taken us to make our minds up and to act.