Rohingya Refugee Crisis

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:31 pm on 20th December 2018.

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Photo of Rosena Allin-Khan Rosena Allin-Khan Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) (Sport) 2:31 pm, 20th December 2018

I congratulate colleagues from across the House who have brought this important issue to the Chamber today. I know that the number of MPs here does not reflect the importance we put on this vital issue. I have visited the Rohingya refugee camps on the border of Bangladesh and Myanmar twice in my capacity as a humanitarian doctor. In doing so, I have had the ability to see at first hand the brutality and hear the accounts of what has been undertaken in Myanmar. I have had a career spanning more than 10 years working in the field of humanitarian medicine, and never have I experienced such atrocity.

Last year, when I first met refugees crossing the border, I saw the most brutal injuries and heard devastating first-hand accounts of mothers having their babies ripped from their arms and having to make the choice of whether to go and save one baby from a burning fire or flee with the children they still had remaining, in the vain hope of saving their lives. These are mothers whose children were murdered with the same knives then used to slice off their own breasts. There are sprawling camps, housing almost 1 million Rohingya; the scale has to be seen to be believed, and I know that many in the House today have seen that for themselves. There is a generation of children born out of rape, women who have been brutally violated and men who have had to carry their pregnant wife for 15 days, without food, often needing to drag them just to get over the border to safety. Meanwhile, the world has watched; meanwhile, we have watched.

In October, I returned to the camps and heard how, despite the uncertainty surrounding their futures, people felt relief at finally being able to sleep at night. It was so much easier for people to live in a camp, knee-deep in mud, with a family of eight sharing one little shack, but without the fear of imminently having their child snatched away and murdered. I spoke with Humaira, whose young son was murdered when the army stormed her village. She told me how she wanted to kill herself but was kept alive by the thought of trying to find his body to at least give him a burial. After two days of searching in vain, she had to decide between staying and losing her own life, or fleeing across the border, knowing that she was leaving her son’s body somewhere to rot. She still lives with the pain of not being able to bury her son.

I then met Subara, a 24-year-old mother, who spoke of how the military snatched from her arms her one-year-old child and hacked him to death right in front of her eyes. I know this does not make for easy listening, but these are the facts. We have seen this and heard this; this has been happening on our watch. I was in a room full of 30 women each of whom had a similar woeful, devastating story to tell. The guilt of coming home to my own three-year-old and five-year-old daughters left me unable to sleep at night, as I pondered what it must feel like to have to choose between your two children and for a moment accept that choice. No parent, wherever they are in the world, should ever have to make that choice, but that has been happening as the world has watched and as we have watched. Why should our children’s lives be of more value than those of the Rohingya children, so brutally left for dead and slaughtered, without even a proper burial?

There are now plans to forcibly repatriate thousands of refugees, despite condemnation by the UN and despite their having escaped incomprehensible brutality. These refugees have already lived through the most intolerable cruelty. Just last month, refugees were fleeing camps in fear and others attempted suicide having been named on the list of 4,355 Rohingya refugees for imminent return, without their consent. Those repatriations have been halted for the time being, but they are due to start again in the new year. With the clock ticking, will the Minister confirm to the House that he will speak to the UN to place international pressure on Myanmar and Bangladesh to stop this forced repatriation? The UK Government, as the penholder for Myanmar on the UN Security Council, have a real leadership opportunity, which we have to take.

One year ago, Rohingya refugees were still fleeing over the Myanmar border into Bangladesh. One year ago, Members in this House were debating the horrors faced by the Rohingya in northern Rakhine. One year ago, the Minister stated in this House that if the UN found evidence of genocide, he would support a referral to the ICC. However, just last month, he stated, in writing, that there is insufficient support among Security Council members for an ICC referral at this time. Just how much more suffering do the Rohingya people have to go through before the UK Government are forced to act? The debate is not concluded, yet we have already heard so many first-hand accounts, and I have witnessed these things myself. What more needs to happen? How is it possible that we are still witnessing the Rohingya face unimaginable horrors on a daily basis and uncertainty, yet the UK Government have not publicly spoken out against the forced repatriation of the Rohingya to Myanmar? Should the Rohingya not return to Myanmar, it is looking ever more likely that they face an uncertain future, with the possibility of relocation to Bhasan Char, a desolate island in the bay of Bengal, where communication with the mainland would be entirely cut off during monsoon season.

Many people would do anything to have our job, sitting in this place and making decisions that affect hundreds of thousands, if not millions of lives. We need to be able to look ourselves in the mirror in the twilight of our years and know that we did something with our position in this House. Sometimes that will call for bravery, sometimes it will call on us to take a chance and speak out for all that is right and good. We sit here today on the verge of Christmas and new year. I will be cuddling my children in the new year, but there are hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees for whom their children are but a memory. How can life have such different value depending on where a person was born? The Rohingya are crying out for justice. Humanity must have no borders. Will the Minister today please replace platitudes with promises of action?