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

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. My speech is concentrating on the plight of the Rohingya people, but any other refugees should be included in the issue, because if a country is to be at peace with itself it has to be at peace with recognising the diversity—the linguistic and ethnic diversity—of all its people. If the army of the country, in this case Myanmar, attacks and drives one particular ethnic group out of the country, who is next and what happens after that? There has to be a process of reconciliation, as well as support for the right of return and for people to be able to live safely and securely in Rakhine state.

The UK Government recently imposed sanctions against two Myanmar military generals, which is an important symbolic measure, especially for the victims, but further and more meaningful action must be taken. The UK Government should, for instance, prevent British companies from trading with companies in Myanmar connected with the military in any way. I look forward to the Minister explaining what the process is on that.

If we focus on just mineral rights exploration, such as gas and oil offshore, we will find that many foreign investors are competing to stay friendly with the Myanmar Government and that the UK is among the top investors. We have to be careful here. If British companies are investing in exploiting oil, gas or any other natural resources found there, they will find, not very far away, the influence of the Myanmar military, which will be making a great deal of money out of that. They are the ones who stand accused of the attacks and of killing so many Rohingya people in Rakhine state. We should have nothing to do with that. We should be strong enough to say, “We are not prepared to be involved with a military, a Government or companies that have paid for or supported those attacks in any way.” When the Minister replies, can he explain what exactly the relationship with Myanmar’s military is at present? We need to know that we are not supplying any weapons to it or providing any training facilities for it, and that we are resolute in our determination to protect the Rohingya and other minorities from future attacks, as the hon. Member for Worthing West correctly pointed out.

It is extremely concerning and unethical that the UK has apparently obtained large quantities of personal protective equipment from Myanmar, a country where the Government are accused of ethnic cleansing by the UN and genocide by other human rights organisations. It is simply unacceptable that we purchase equipment to save lives in the UK from a country that has taken so many. We can and should find other sources of PPE. We are going to enter a second lockdown now. Can the Minister guarantee that the Government will not purchase any more PPE from Myanmar?

I close by saying that the Rohingya people were discriminated against and manipulated during the colonial era, have been brutally treated by the Myanmar military for many decades and are now desperate in refugee camps with unsanitary, unsafe and dangerous conditions. The world has to wake up. We cannot allow a million people to be forgotten in that way. The world needs to do two things: first, to provide the support necessary for those people to survive and, secondly, to apply political pressure to the Government of Myanmar so that they will allow people to return safely and to live safely and securely in the country and place of their birth.