Rohingya Refugee Crisis

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:01 pm on 20th December 2018.

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Photo of Imran Hussain Imran Hussain Shadow Minister (Justice) 2:01 pm, 20th December 2018

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. It is massively important that safeguards are put in place to protect those children. Again, the international community must do more to ensure that we protect the children, whether they are born in the camps or whether they have been orphaned.

Despite those conditions—and we have heard graphic descriptions—many Rohingya would still rather stay in the camps than be repatriated, against their will or with false promises, to the country that tried to kill them. That is a powerful point. Let us be absolutely clear that they are not being relocated back to their villages, which have long since been burnt to the ground, erased by soldiers who are equally keen on erasing the existence of the Rohingya themselves. Instead, they are being relocated to holding camps; camps surrounded by fences and barbed wires; camps that are a prison, not a new home. In these camps the Rohingya are easily identifiable to the Burmese Government, easily located, easily persecuted and easily killed. When the same Government and military who forced them out of their homes, and killed their husbands, wives, sisters, brothers, mothers, fathers, sons and daughters, are in power, and when there are no guarantees of their protection other than the word of the same Burmese Government, then safe return is a fiction.

The Rohingya would not be safe. Indeed, they would be even more at risk. We cannot expect them to return to Burma willingly. To guarantee as great a level of protection as possible for the Rohingya and to stop this genocide from ever happening again, we need to hold the Burmese Government to account. We need to hold them responsible, and we need to hold them to their commitments and promises to Bangladesh and to the international community. The first real step—the Minister is listening—that the Burmese Government can take, if there is an ounce of will to move in the right direction, is to give immediate and equal citizenship—not a passport to citizenship or a route to citizenship, or any other scheme, but an immediate right to citizenship. Promises and gestures will not do. Only hard action and a firm stance will work, because that is the only language the Burmese Government seem to understand.

The first action we should take is to refer the Burmese Government and the leaders, military and civilian, who are responsible for the Rohingyan genocide to the International Criminal Court. That point has been made, and made well. Those who commit grave crimes against humanity do not belong in power; they belong in The Hague, on trial for their actions. The Government occasionally argue back that any referral to the ICC would be vetoed by China, but I say, let them veto it. Let it be known that they did nothing to stop the persecution of innocent civilians. But we should not let it be known that the UK did not even try, that we shied away from our global responsibilities and that we ran in fear of a veto. The Government have nothing to lose from pushing for a referral and building an international coalition of support for such a measure across the UN General Assembly, but we have our dignity, respect and, above all, our humanity to lose by staying away.

We should not stop there. We must take further action. We need to create a deterrence to prevent this from ever happening again, and we can do that only by creating a serious impact on the Burmese Government. We therefore need to look again at the sanctions that can be imposed on the Burmese military and the companies that are owned by or profit through the military. Some will say that sanctions are dangerous and that they would lead to the toppling of a democratic Government. That may be their concern, but I am concerned that the Government in Burma are no longer democratic or representative anyway, and that Aung San Suu Kyi, the de facto President of Burma, is just as culpable for the genocide. She may not have issued the orders, but she was part of the persecution campaign against the Rohingya.

Sanctions will not topple the democratic Government in Burma and will not lead to a military coup. That is just a myth, because those in the Burmese military already have everything they want. They have control over the legislature and the key Government Ministries. They have made reforms that are acceptable to the international community while barely sacrificing an ounce of their power, so why would they rock the boat now? Their violence and genocide against the Rohingya may have gone unpunished so far, but it is certain that a military coup would not be. To believe in the military coup is simply an excuse, and the Government need to propose measures on how they will respond to the UN report’s findings and impose sanctions on those involved in the genocide that it describes.

Before I finish, I want to stress the importance of ensuring that those who can escape to the UK—those who can legally reside in this country—are able do so. Many Rohingya in Burma have close family in the UK—indeed, my constituency houses the largest population of Rohingya in Europe—but Home Office hoops and legal hurdles mean that they cannot escape the hell in which they find themselves and join their family here. To enter the UK, the Home Office requires an English language test and a tuberculosis test, both of which must be completed at the British consulate in Dhaka. It is impossible for the refugees trapped in Cox’s Bazar to fulfil those criteria, because they are unable to leave. I have spoken with DFID staff about this matter and sought contact with the Home Office, but I have thus far been ignored. I will be grateful to the Minister if he states what further action he can take to allow the tests to be done in the camps. Will he press upon the Home Secretary and the Immigration Minister the importance of lifting restrictions that refugees cannot fulfil?

The Rohingya in my constituency have made a rich contribution to Bradford, and I put on the record my thanks, gratitude and appreciation to them for the positive contribution that the Rohingya community has made to the great district of Bradford.