Rohingya: Monsoon Season — [Siobhain McDonagh in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:03 pm on 8th May 2018.

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Photo of Preet Kaur Gill Preet Kaur Gill Shadow Minister (International Development) 2:03 pm, 8th May 2018

I absolutely agree, and I will come on to that point.

The Government of Bangladesh have rightly been praised for their initial response, but as we move into a dangerous new phase of the crisis it is imperative to address operational barriers that hinder the work of aid agencies. International donors have granted $14 million of funding, which cannot be utilised at present because of restrictions on which organisations can deliver aid programmes in Cox’s Bazar. That has led to the utterly perverse situation of badly needed aid money being returned to donors.

In response to a written question that I tabled on 13 April, the Minister recognised:

“International non-governmental organisations face ongoing challenges with securing and renewing visas and permits”.

He stated:

“UK Ministers and officials continue to liaise with their Government of Bangladesh counterparts on this issue.”

With that in mind, will the Minister provide an update on discussions between the UK and Bangladesh Governments on the process of issuing FD-7 visas so that international aid organisations can implement humanitarian projects, and will he confirm that the UK Government are pressing for the duration of the authorisation to be increased?

Owing to further administrative procedures, up to 90% of aid staff currently have to use short-term tourist or business visas to enter the country. Will the Minister assure me that his Department is doing all it can to ensure that the Government of Bangladesh agree FD-6 agreements with agencies, so that their staff are able to apply for the appropriate visas necessary to plan and implement their work?

Secondly, at the recent Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting, a roundtable on the Rohingya crisis was co-hosted by the UK and Canada, with the Foreign Ministers of Australia, New Zealand and Bangladesh in attendance. That meeting represented a chance to discuss the crisis at the top level of Government. Will the Minister say whether preparations for the monsoon season were specifically discussed at that meeting?

Thirdly, although the immediate priority must of course be the impending monsoon, the only permanent solution to the crisis is for the security situation in Rakhine state to be such that the Rohingya are able to return safely and voluntarily to their home. Although in January an agreement was reached between the Governments of Bangladesh and Myanmar to repatriate 156,000 Rohingya over the next few years, in reality neither the security situation nor the stipulations placed on returning Rohingya, such as identity documents, are conducive to such a move.

I met the Myanmar ambassador to raise my concerns about the ongoing treatment of the Rohingya, but I do not believe that blaming the failure of Rohingya repatriations on administrative errors by the Bangladeshi authorities indicates a serious desire on the part of the Myanmar Government to solve this crisis. The UK Government must maintain pressure on the Myanmar authorities to engage seriously with the issues faced by the Rohingya, not least those of security and citizenship. What are the Government doing to ensure that the Myanmar Government and General Min Aung Hlaing are properly brought to account for the atrocities they have committed? Does the Minister agree that the Myanmar Government cannot be trusted to protect the Rohingya until they truly feel the heat of international pressure and accountability for what has happened?

I welcome the UK continuing to fund humanitarian work in Cox’s Bazar as monsoon season approaches, but I hope that that terrible threat will act as a spur to renew the UK’s political will and to solve some of the longer term political problems. Only then will we finally see an end to the suffering of the Rohingya people.