UN Chief Lends Ear to Rohingya Ordeals

Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina flanked by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres (R) and World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim in Dhaka, Bangladesh on July 1Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina flanked by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres (R) and World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim in Dhaka, Bangladesh on July 1

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he heard “unimaginable” accounts of atrocities during a visit Monday to vast camps in Bangladesh that are home to a million Rohingya refugees who fled violence in Myanmar.

Guterres described the situation for the persecuted Muslim minority as “a humanitarian and human rights nightmare,” as he prepared to tour makeshift shelters crammed with people who escaped a huge Myanmar army operation last year that the UN has likened to ethnic cleansing, AFP reported.

“In Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, I’ve just heard unimaginable accounts of killing and rape from Rohingya refugees who recently fled Myanmar. They want justice and a safe return home,” Guterres said on Twitter.

“The Rohingya are one of the most discriminated against and vulnerable communities on Earth,” he said in a tweet before his visit to the camps in southern Bangladesh.

Accompanied by the head of the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim, he called it a “mission of solidarity with Rohingya refugees and the communities supporting them. The compassion & generosity of the Bangladeshi people shows the best of humanity and saved many thousands of lives.”

The bulk of the Rohingya in Bangladesh, or some 700,000 people, flooded across the border last August to escape the violence.

They are loathed by many in Myanmar, where they were stripped of citizenship and branded illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, despite calling Rakhine their homeland.

 Acclaim for Bangladesh

Guterres has applauded Bangladesh for giving a safe haven to hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees driven from their homes in Myanmar by systematic and widespread violence.

On mission in Bangladesh, the secretary-general praised the country for keeping its borders open and receiving those in need of international protection, UN News reported.

“In a world where so many borders are closed, [the people and government of Bangladesh] have opened their borders and received their brothers and sisters coming from Myanmar and from the terrible events there,” said Guterres in the capital Dhaka on Sunday.

The UN chief also praised the World Bank for its recently announced multi-million-dollar grant for Bangladesh to support both refugees and the communities hosting them.

The secretary-general arrived in Bangladesh early on Sunday as part of a joint trip with the president of the World Bank.

On Sunday, Guterres and Kim also met with Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina, where they discussed collaboration with her government to address the complex Rohingya crisis.  

They spoke about how they could work together to create conditions conducive to the return of Rohingya refugees to Myanmar, while at the same time, improving conditions for them in Bangladesh.

“By hosting the Rohingya, Bangladesh has done a great service for the world. We will support this effort any way we can,” said Kim in a tweet following the meeting.

 Accounts of Atrocities

A UN Security Council delegation visited Myanmar and Rakhine state in early May, meeting refugees who gave detailed accounts of killings, rape and villages torched at the hands of Myanmar’s military.

Myanmar denies allegations by the United States, the UN and others of ethnic cleansing.

Bangladesh and Myanmar agreed in November to begin repatriating the Rohingya but the process has stalled, with both sides accusing the other of frustrating the effort.

Fewer than 200 have been resettled, and the vast majority refuse to contemplate returning until their rights, citizenship and safety are assured.

Around 100 Rohingya staged a protest just before Guterres’ visit, unhappy about a preliminary UN deal with Myanmar to assess conditions on the ground for their possible return home.

The United Nations has said however that conditions in the persecuted minority’s home state of Rakhine in western Myanmar are not conducive to the refugees’ safe, voluntary and dignified repatriation.


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