Rohingya Humanitarian Crisis: Covid-19 — [Dame Rosie Winterton in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 9:40 am on 3rd November 2020.

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Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Independent, Islington North 9:40 am, 3rd November 2020

My hon. Friend makes an important point, and I hope she will get an opportunity to catch your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker, to make a longer contribution.

According to UNICEF, an estimated 30% of children living in the camps suffer from chronic malnutrition—one third of children suffering from malnutrition—and 11% from acute malnutrition. A whole generation of children are growing up in their most important, formative years without enough to eat, which will lead to stunted growth and development and probably a much shorter life expectancy. There is not an overall food shortage in the world; there is a problem of distributing food across the world. Again, while I am not critical of the UN or aid agencies and what they are trying to achieve, resources are needed to feed those children. Imagine being in a refugee camp and unable to get enough food. Also, sadly, there are reports of sexual abuse, human trafficking, exploitation of children and violence against women within these very overcrowded camps. Funding for education, food and to deal with gender-based violence is very important. I hope that Britain will continue to work closely with the UN to ensure an effective implementation of the joint response plan for the Rohingya humanitarian crisis.

All long-term problems are exacerbated by the threat of covid-19. Cases have been confirmed among the Rohingya and the International Rescue Committee has advised that the camp is particularly vulnerable to virus transmission due to an exceptionally high density—40,000 people per square kilometre are trying to survive in those refugee camps. There is very poor sanitation, limited access to health care services and a high level of malnutrition. In the monsoon season, the heavy rainfall leads to flooding and further danger of terrible diseases such as cholera breaking out as a result of inadequate sanitation.

I am sad to say that there are serious concerns about the fencing erected around the camps, as it restricts the Rohingya’s legitimate freedom of movement and access to services. The UK must urge the Bangladesh authorities to review urgently their approach to security. The issue will not be solved by putting fences around civilians or removing deported Rohingya from the camps along the border to an island in the Bay of Bengal—an island just above sea level with prison-type accommodation. The island places them further from Myanmar with no access to a regular ferry service. It would be a place they would go to and possibly never return, which is an unacceptable step. The international community must do all it can to ensure that that does not materialise.

In looking at any refugee crisis, we must look first at the humanitarian needs of desperate people, and I have tried to outline those needs, but we must also look at why they sought refuge in the first place and were forced to make the desperate and dangerous step of at least trying to get away from being murdered or raped and having their villages destroyed. The Myanmar Government must take immediate steps to address the chronic situation, including the 1982 citizenship law, and restore the Rohingya right to citizenship, a measure that was supported at the 44th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council. The President of Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi, has issued a number of decrees following the provisional measure to prevent genocide, from the International Court of Justice. The Court said that the Rohingya remained at serious risk of that. Just get that: the International Court of Justice said that the Rohingya remained at serious risk of having genocide committed against them.

It is time to translate those decrees fully into concrete actions. The fighting in Rakhine must end. Civilians must be protected. Evidence of serious violations must be preserved. I must say I find the actions and attitudes of Aung San Suu Kyi perplexing. I am one of many people who marched around London in support of her, asking that her house arrest be ended and that she be given the freedom to return to political open life, which she did. She was elected and eventually became President. So I should be grateful if the Minister would help us and say what pressure is being put on Aung San Suu Kyi, and whether the Government will consider their relationship with her in the future. It is extraordinary that someone who came to office on the basis that she was a victim of human rights abuses seems to have a blind spot where the rights of the Rohingya people are concerned, and is happy to promote a sort of supremacist attitude over them. Unless that changes, their right of return becomes a bit of a pipe dream.

I do not know how long the crisis will go on, but I do not want to say that children now being born, or living, in those refugee camps in Bangladesh have no future other than to be refugees in a camp in Bangladesh for decades to come. Therein lie illness, mental health problems and anger—and a breeding ground for the terrorists of the future because they are so angry. I hope that our Government will do all they can to bring about a peaceful solution to their plight and engage with the UN and the Governments of Bangladesh and Myanmar, to stress the importance of including the Rohingya in all discussions for the future.

The Foreign Secretary said recently:

“The Rohingya people have faced horrific brutality and were forced to flee their homes in the worst circumstances imaginable. We have taken action against the architects of this systemic violence, including through sanctions and we will continue to hold those responsible to account.”

I look forward to the Minister telling us how many other people may be subject to sanctions in the future, depending on what happens to the Rohingya people.