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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:03 am on 3rd November 2020.

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Photo of Apsana Begum Apsana Begum Labour, Poplar and Limehouse 10:03 am, 3rd November 2020

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Madam Deputy Speaker. I congratulate my right hon. Friend Jeremy Corbyn on securing this important debate and drawing attention to the plight of Rohingya refugees. He eloquently made the case today that all of us must do more to support the Rohingya people.

People forced by wars and persecution to flee their homes frequently embark on risky journeys in many parts of the world. They should find safety and support and not be exposed to more danger and hardship. However, there are approximately 1 million Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, a country already facing significant challenges, not least during this world pandemic. Many people are still living below the poverty line and feel that they have no other choice but to go out and earn their living despite the risk of getting infected by the virus. Covid-19 has exacerbated existing problems for the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, including by increasing gender-based violence, and the lack of adequate sanitation and healthcare and the crowded conditions make distancing impossible.

Bangladesh should not be left alone with the humanitarian crisis of the Rohingya refugees, and the international community should increase its economic support accordingly. What steps is the Minister taking to work with the Government of Bangladesh to encourage efforts to designate critical gender-based violence services as essential and to ensure that there is a continuity of gender-based violence service provision for the Rohingya throughout the covid-19 response? Given the inescapable reality that many refugees will remain in Bangladesh for years to come, what steps are the Government taking to support the expansion of educational training and support in refugee camps?

My right hon. Friend the Member for Islington North is correct in arguing that it is critical to address the root of the problem. Three years ago a military operation in Myanmar destroyed entire Rohingya Muslim villages. UN investigators say that as many as 10,000 people were killed, and more than 730,000 Rohingya fled the massacre for Bangladesh. The UN called it “a textbook …ethnic cleansing.” According to Médecins Sans Frontières, at least 6,700 Rohingya, including at least 730 children under the age of five, were killed in the month after the violence broke out. About 288 villages were partially or totally destroyed by fire in the north of Rakhine state after August 2017, according to analysis of state imagery by Human Rights Watch.

Just today, an independent human rights expert called on the Government and the military in Myanmar to stop persecuting Opposition supporters, including journalists and student protestors, ahead of the elections next week. Thomas Andrews, UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, said:

“But this cannot happen as long as it is enforcing laws that undermine the very lifeblood of democracy, and the right to vote is denied based on race, ethnicity of religion as it is with the Rohingya.”

Canada and the Netherlands have supported the case brought to the International Court of Justice by Gambia, alleging that Myanmar’s atrocities against the Rohingya in Rakhine state violate various provisions of the convention on the prevention and punishment of the crime of genocide. Can the Minister tell us any more about that and about the role that the UK could play in that regard?

In conclusion, I express my solidarity with all people around the world who are victims of political human rights abuses. Ultimately, it is the duty of all of us to do everything we can to uphold fundamental human rights, as laid out by the universal declaration of human rights.