Rohingya Refugee Crisis

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:56 pm on 20th December 2018.

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Photo of Rushanara Ali Rushanara Ali Labour, Bethnal Green and Bow 3:56 pm, 20th December 2018

Let me start by expressing my gratitude to my hon. Friends and other Members, especially my co-sponsor Mrs Main, for taking time to contribute to this debate ahead of Christmas. Everybody has spoken passionately and with conviction and courage about the importance of the need for the British Government to act, and we have highlighted our own experiences of why we need to act. I am grateful to the Minister for the work he has been doing and for what he has said.

Let me sum up and reiterate some of the points made by my hon. Friends and Members in all parts the Chamber. The first is the importance of the reform of citizenship laws and the protection of all minorities—especially the Rohingya population, given the scale of the disaster, but also other minorities, including Christian minorities. There are conflicts throughout Burma that affect humanitarian access for other minorities, such as the Kachin.

Along with its humanitarian dimension, the particular focus of the motion is the need to seek an International Criminal Court referral through the United Nations. The Minister highlighted very well the complexities of getting such a referral, and we understand them, but we need to remind ourselves of some of the remarks that have been made, including “If not now, when?” If the Minister is not prepared to say when, for the reasons that he has explained—we fully appreciate the complexity and difficulty of international diplomacy—will he please make the commitment that he, and perhaps even the Foreign Secretary, will regularly report to the House, without our having to spend months trying to secure a Backbench debate that then gets delayed because of the wider crises that we face in this country, particularly given the uncertainties of Brexit and a potential no-deal situation.

The point about the referral and accountability and justice is well made and important. We are particularly passionate and determined that this foreign affairs team—the current Foreign Secretary, with the Minister and his colleagues—take action, because they have shown the greatest commitment so far. That includes the Foreign Secretary’s recent visit to Burma and his discussions with some of us before and after that. I am grateful for the time that has been given to involve Members of the House. This team has shown the most commitment to trying to get results, so we need to seize that opportunity, because we have had a lot of change, with a number of Ministers having moved. While we have the Government’s commitment and understanding, we need action. Otherwise, we will keep coming back here to remind and re-educate subsequent Ministers, not because they do not care, but because they are having to learn fast, as this Minister had to do when, as a new Minister, he stood in this Chamber to respond to an urgent question when this crisis began. That is why we are absolutely determined to ensure that the Government take much stronger action and report back—every few months, I hope—with some results, rather than have us go round in circles.

The points on the issues relating to protection, particularly of women and children, are well made. I urge the Minister to make sure that DFID does more and that we do more to ensure that the outstanding funding is provided for the appeal, because without medium to long-term funding, the hand-to-mouth existence is going to cause further devastation.

My hon. Friend Stephen Twigg mentioned the Jordan compact as a way of learning what else could be done and supporting host populations, as has been the case in Jordan in respect of Syrian refugees. It is important that DFID and the Foreign Office explore those options. On the conditions in the camps, the International Development Committee highlighted the 200,000 people who would have been at risk if landslides had taken place as a result of flooding and cyclones. There is a real risk that that could happen next year. I know from spending the first seven years of my life in Bangladesh that the climate is very difficult, so I hope the Minister will do more with the Department to ensure that more support is provided.

I want to thank all the international and domestic non-governmental organisations that have supported the efforts, both in Rakhine and in Bangladesh. I particularly thank the Burma Campaign UK and Refugees International, which first took me to Burma when I was a newly elected MP, in very challenging circumstances. I also thank the faith organisations—the mosques, synagogues and churches—which have raised so much money; British nationals have raised so much money and shown so much generosity. I echo the appeal made by my hon. Friend Helen Goodman for people to donate ahead of this Christmas to support people who are struggling to survive. I thank all of my colleagues for giving their time and sticking with this very important issue, because genocide cannot be taken lightly. That is why we must act.

I wish to thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for indulging us, and me in particular, in allowing me to speak for a bit longer than two minutes. I wish you a very happy Christmas, and I wish all colleagues, especially my co-sponsor, a very happy Christmas and new year.