[Hywel Williams in the Chair] — Rohingya Communities

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:32 am on 11th September 2012.

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Photo of Kerry McCarthy Kerry McCarthy Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 10:32 am, 11th September 2012

That shows clearly why the 1982 Act was such a backward step: by establishing the principle that there are eight national races, it went back on what the then President said. Review and reform of the 1982 Act is crucial to dealing with the Rohingya’s situation.

The establishment by the President of a commission to investigate the violence in Rakhine state was welcomed by the Foreign Office Minister, Alistair Burt, who does not cover Burma, but deals with human rights issues—or did at the time. He issued a statement welcoming the announcement, emphasising that it was crucial for the commission to be impartial and inclusive. Will the Minister say what involvement the Foreign Office has had in the commission’s work? Have any direct representations been made to the commission? Has the Foreign Office been involved in assessing the commission’s progress to date?

Several hon. Members mentioned Bangladesh, which is important, because Burma cannot resolve the situation alone and it is not Burma’s sole responsibility to resolve it. The Rohingya’s treatment by Bangladeshi authorities is also a serious cause for concern. It is difficult to verify numbers, but we have seen videos of packed boats being turned away by Bangladesh. It is estimated that more than 300,000 Rohingya refugees have managed to cross the border into Bangladesh, but the Government there officially recognise only 29,000 of those as refugees.

It is worrying that Bangladesh has now stopped three aid agencies, Médecins Sans Frontières, Action Against Hunger and Muslim Aid, from providing aid, claiming that Rohingya are in Bangladesh illegally. They are going backwards and forwards across the border and are regarded as illegal immigrants in both cases. What contact has there been between the UK and Bangladesh regarding the principle of non-refoulement and humanitarian access? Has the Minister tried to encourage a dialogue between the Bangladesh and Burmese authorities? That is what is needed at the moment to deal with the immediate humanitarian crisis, because the refugees have nowhere to go.

Burma should be praised for the steps that it has taken towards democracy, but it still has a long way to go. The progress is fragile and grave human rights violations remain, including but not limited to the persecution of ethnic and religious minorities. The President must prove that his Government are committed to addressing those violations and the UK must demonstrate, when the Burmese President visits this country, that all due representations are made and that this matter is flagged on the political agenda. I am sure that the Minister wants to update us on all those issues in his response.