Rohingya Refugee Crisis

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:07 pm on 20th December 2018.

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Photo of Helen Goodman Helen Goodman Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 3:07 pm, 20th December 2018

I congratulate my hon. Friend Rushanara Ali and the Backbench Business Committee on securing this important debate. At the beginning of her speech, my hon. Friend drew our attention to the motion before the House, and I am going to begin in the same way:

“this House is deeply concerned by the ongoing humanitarian crisis…agrees with the findings of the UN fact-finding mission that genocide and war crimes have been carried out…calls on the Government to pursue an ICC referral…and further calls on the Government to put pressure on the United Nations.”

The fact of the matter is that we are not going to divide the House this afternoon. This is a substantive motion. It means that the Government, having accepted it, must carry through in full with action.

My hon. Friend made an excellent speech, in which she pointed out that the UN fact-finding mission has found that genocide and war crimes have been committed. I thank her for her work in not only securing the debate but visiting the refugees, preparing so thoroughly and putting pressure on the Myanmar Government. As she said, half the refugees are children, so the horror and catastrophe of this situation cannot be exaggerated. She said, as other Members have, that she was disappointed in the Government’s response. Later in my speech, I will suggest some ways in which we could toughen up the UK’s position.

It is now 16 months since three quarters of a million Rohingya people began to cross the border into Bangladesh. In the camps, there is plainly terrible suffering and squalid conditions—many Members have testified to that —but, of course, the situation from which they were escaping and the horror of the sexual violence were even worse.

All Members have rightly acknowledged the great generosity of the Bangladeshi Government. I also want to thank the voluntary sector for not only its support in briefing us for the debate but the work it is doing day in, day out, including Save the Children, Burma Campaign UK, the International Rescue Committee, Human Rights Watch and the UNHRC.

I was somewhat alarmed when I discovered that the Myanmar and Bangladeshi Governments had reached a new agreement on repatriation and registered all the refugees in the camps, which is the necessary base for repatriation. The main question is: are the conditions right for a safe, voluntary and dignified return? This House is sending a message to both those Governments that the answer is an emphatic no; those conditions are not yet present.