British shadow Minister for International Development Roberta Blackman-Woods, who recently visited Bangladesh and Rohingya camps, moved the motion with Ian Paisley in the chair.
Over 20 MPs took part in the discussion at the House of Commons on Tuesday, according to Hansard Online, which says it puts in a substantially verbatim report of what is said in parliament.
Roberta attended the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association conference in Dhaka as a member of the British delegation.
In her opening remarks, Roberta said, “Although stories about the crisis are similar, my visit brought home the vastness of the camps.”
“The UNHCR’s head of emergency planning told our group of parliamentarians that the camps needed to house the new refugees are the equivalent of a city larger than Manchester and these are being established almost overnight,” she told the MPs.
“And it was built with no infrastructure, housing, water, sanitation or any of the tools needed for self-subsistence,” she quoted the UNHCR emergency chief.
​The International Rescue Committee estimates that nearly 300,000 people need food security assistance and more than 400,000 people need healthcare, Roberta said.
Only a fraction of the 453,000 Rohingya children at camps receives education. The young people they met were desperate for education—particularly higher education, the shadow minister continued.
Another MP, Philip Hollobone, said, “It is ethnic cleansing, pure and simple, and must be 100% condemned through all diplomatic channels available to us.”
“I appreciate the sensitivities of the nascent democracy in Burma, but we must make it clear that the generals are responsible for this ethnic cleansing and that the international community will not put up with it.”
“When it comes to the potential return of Rohingya refugees, returning stateless people to remain stateless in their country of origin is not good enough. These people require their nationhood to be given to them.”
He also said Britain must stimulate further contributions from other countries, particularly Muslim countries, because ‘we are dealing with a Muslim population’, and “there are lots of rich Muslim countries in the world that, frankly, should be stepping up to the plate rather more”.
Taking the floor, Mark Field said, “It would be very dangerous for this to be seen as only a Muslim issue.
“It is a global humanitarian catastrophe, and while I accept what he says – that we want to see all nations contributing – to try to frame it in an ethnic way would be the wrong way forward.”​
Rushanara Ali, a Bangladesh-origin Labour MP, asked the minister whether they will be pursuing an independent security presence to protect the Rohingyas.
“Because otherwise, we are expecting the perpetrators of ethnic cleansing to be the ones managing this process?”
“Absolutely,” Mark Field said in reply. “We will. I am also wary of the idea of having a long-term presence there, rather like what has happened in the Middle East where one has an unsustainable position for the longer term.”
“But in the short term, we need to have an independent international presence to police this matter.”
He also said the UK government concluded that the inexcusable violence perpetrated on the Rohingya by the Burmese military and ethnic Rakhine militia appears to be ethnic cleansing – or is ethnic cleansing.
The UK has been leading the international response diplomatically, politically and regarding humanitarian support.​
Rushanara expressed concern over the supposed agreement between the Bangladeshis and the Burmese as what she terms ‘is deeply problematic”, given the state of camps in Rakhine and the way the Rohingya are being treated.
“I visited Burma twice. Our Government needs to ensure that security arrangements are in place and that the Rohingyas’ protection is guaranteed before any such process takes place,” she added.
Agreeing with her concern, Roberta said, despite the deal signed on 23 November between Myanmar and Bangladesh to return the Rohingya to Myanmar, there is “understandably widespread aversion” among the displaced Rohingya to returning to their home state at present.
Labour MP from Manchester Jeff Smith said, “The repatriation deal requires that refugees produce a load of documentation, including names of family members, previous addresses, birth dates and a statement of voluntary return.”
“Given the systematic denial of citizenship rights, will that be incredibly difficult for them?” he asked.
In reply, Roberta said, “It is clear that the conditions for safe, voluntary and informed returns are not being met.”
The IRC also states that 81 percent of the Rohingyas it interviewed do not wish to return to Myanmar at present, she added.
She also said, “International pressure to solve the crisis is of the utmost urgency, and I would like to hear from the Minister what the Government are going to do to try to step up the amount of aid delivered not only by the UK Government but by other partners, and how they will press for a longer-term international solution to the problem.”
Labour MP from Tooting Rosena Allin-Khan, who also visited the camp, told the House of Commons, “I say on the record, as I have all week, that this is not ethnic cleansing. Ethnic cleansing is not a crime in humanitarian law. This is genocide—the systematic dehumanisation of a population of people—and we have to call it out.”
“We are proud to be British, and all that stands for. Our standing in the world is to be applauded. The amount we give to humanitarian efforts is absolutely wonderful, but it is tantamount to putting a sticking plaster on a gunshot wound and allowing the shooter to roam free. We cannot be bystanders to this genocide.”
She said she met an Imam in the camp who managed to escape into the bushes as the military arrived in his village and started shooting everybody.
The Imam described, through his tears: “All the men being mutilated and killed as their wives were forced to watch; women being dragged backwards by their hair and gang-raped repeatedly as their children were forced to watch; and their children, as they ran away screaming, being dragged back and thrown into the fires.”
“I know that that is hard to hear, but I promised I would tell their stories,” she continued.​
Another member of the British delegation that visited the refugee camps, Anne Main, a Conservative MP from St Albans said, “There is a cultural problem here—tacit agreement with the process that has happened. The local people in Myanmar are ‘not unhappy’ that these people have been driven out in the most horrific manner.”
“That needs to be addressed. Otherwise, sending the Rohingya back will only send them back into a scenario in which they are permanently under threat, despised and robbed of their rights,” she added.
Faisal Rashid, a Labour MP from Warrington South, called upon the British government to lead the way in organising an immediate and effective international response to the crisis.
He urged that the other members of the United Nations Security Council come together and use their collective power to help this persecuted minority.
“The Burmese Government must be held to account, and the war crimes that have been committed by the Burmese military must be investigated in an international court. The Rohingya people need justice,” he added.
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