Rohingya refugees see hope in UN Security Council visit

Bangladeshi Bishop welcomes visit of diplomats but believes resolving Rakhine crisis will take time
Rohingya refugees see hope in UN Security Council visit

Rohingya refugees hold placards to members of UN Security Council team during their visit to Kutupalong refugee camp in Bangladesh's Ukhia's district on April 29. (Photo by Sam Jahan/AFP)

The hopes that displaced Rohingya have in returning safely to their homes in Myanmar have been buoyed by the visit of members of the United Nations Security Council to refugee camps in Bangladesh.

Representatives from 15 UN member countries met with Bangladeshi officials and visited refugees in two camps in Tombru and Kutuplaong southeast of Bangladesh April 28-29.

Abdul Kalam, 36, a Rohingya father of four fled to Balukhali refugee camp in Cox's Bazar in October last year, said the UN visit has brought hope to many refugees.

"We know the visit of the UN team has the power to change our lives," Kalam told ucanews.com. "We have lost faith in the Myanmar government, it does not want to give us basic rights or take us back," he said.  

"But I hope the UN intervention can help us return home in peace, get back our land and properties, and ensure our rights including citizenship.

"I believe the UN can also press Myanmar for justice for heinous crimes committed against us," he said.

Refugees delivered the diplomats a list of crimes allegedly committed against them by the Myanmar military and Rakhine Buddhists over the period of 2016-2017. The list included 1,834 rapes, 10,566 killings, 960 injuries, the burning of 72,500 houses, looting of 75,584 houses, plus the burning of 906 mosques and 951 religious schools.

Rashid Ahmed, 65, who has lived in Kutupalong refugee camp with his eight-member family since 1992, echoed similar sentiments to Kalam's.

"For years, Rohingya refugees have pinned their hopes on the international community to end their plight and assist with their return to Myanmar, but their hope never materialized," said Ahmed.

"But now for the first time members of a strong UN body have visited us and heard about our suffering. I believe they can assist in ending plight and statelessness of Rohingya," he said.

Bishop Gervas Rozario of Rajshahi, the vice-president of Catholic Bishops Conference of Bangladesh, welcomed the visit but was skeptical.

"It's a good sign of hope but I have doubts whether the UNSC can resolve the crisis," Bishop Rozario told ucanews.com. "The UNSC is divided over the issue with China supporting Myanmar," he said. "Yet, I would like to hope for better, and I think a solution may come but it will take time."

Russia is also an ally of Myanmar. 

The UNSC delegates themselves said resolving the Rohingya crisis would require patience.

"We don't have any magic solution in the Security Council," said Dmitry Polyanskiy, Russian deputy ambassador to the UN. "It is a very complex issue."  

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Gustavo Meza-Cuadra Velásquez, permanent representative of Peru to the UN and current president of U.N. Security Council, said they were searching for a way to help both Bangladesh and Myanmar deal with the crisis.

Bangladeshi deputy foreign minister Shahriar Alam welcomed the UN visit with a mixture of enthusiasm and caution.

"The main essence of the UNSC's briefing is that lighting a fire is easy but it is difficult to extinguish it," Alam said in a statement April 29.  

"All of the delegates have agreed about [the] humanitarian crisis in refugee camps and exchanged their views regarding the matter. It may take time to take decisions consensually," the minister said. 

The UN team arrived in Myanmar on April 30 to hold talks with military and civilian officials. They are also scheduled to visit conflict-affected areas of Rakhine State, from which nearly 700,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh to escape from brutal military crackdowns dubbed ethnic cleansing by the UN.

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