Wednesday, January 24, 2018 | ePaper

Rohingya issue will be a long time problem

UN coordinator Watkins warns Bangladesh

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The UN resident coordinator in Dhaka has asked Bangladesh to be prepared "psychologically" that it will have to deal with the Rohingya issue for a long time.
"This is something (that is) going to last for a long time. It's a huge problem. It's going to be a very big problem," Robert Watkins told bdnews24.com in an exclusive interview.
But he said the UN will be with Bangladesh in this journey and is set to revise its funding request to help those refugees and the local host Bangladeshis. Rohingya refugee issue is a decades-old crisis as Myanmar denies them citizenship. Hundreds of thousands of them have been living in Bangladesh for long.
The Aug 25 violence has driven over 420,000 Rohingyas into Bangladesh in three weeks. The mass exodus and violence have dran massive global attention with the UN describing it as a "textbook example of ethnic cleansing".
The Resident Coordinator, Watkins, said more are coming but the number has slowed down.
But this will persist for two reasons. "Every time I have seen the refugee situation like this, it lasts longer than we think," he warned. "There are other factors such as 300,000 to 400,000 refugees are living here since 1990s. Now what is happening in Myanmar (is that) they are looking for a solution which is to move the Rohingya population out of the country forever."
"But we have to try and negotiate to solve the crisis. But it takes time. So if you prepare for the long time, it helps for better preparation," he said.
Asked whether the UN is doing enough, he said the UN had a large presence in Myanmar, bigger than in Bangladesh. The UN agencies have been working in Rakhine State even until last October when the last attacks before Aug 25 on border posts took place.
He said later it became impossible for them to work there. "The humanitarian assistance is now very limited".
He said the UN Security Council resolution was a "big start".
"There has not been unanimity in the Security Council. It (agreeing a statement on Myanmar) was the biggest challenge before," he said, referring to a statement issued following the massive violence and large-scale exodus from Myanmar to Bangladesh.
But he said the Security Council is not enough. "It (condemnation) has to come from the all corners of the world." "But I think what we have seen in the past, the regime is quite immune to what the rest of the world thinks about what's going on in Myanmar. "They don't easily change their position," he said.
Asked about possible sanctions against Myanmar, he said there has to be unanimity in the Security Council.
"We could not talk about Myanmar in the past. There were difficulties to get all five veto-power countries (to condemn Myanmar). Myanmar was under sanction for long and that only ended a couple of years ago. And then go back to (sanction) I don't think there is not enough appetite for that."
He said the UN General Assembly gave Bangladesh the opportunity to raise its voice before all the 193 member states. The resident coordinator said the repatriation can be made through negotiations.
"They did it in the past in 1992," he said, referring to the agreement under which Myanmar took back nearly 250,000 Rohingyas in the name of "members of Myanmar society".
Watkins shared his experience about the two days he spent in Cox's Bazar.
"Huge efforts are being made by the government and the international NGOs and UN agencies. They are working tirelessly. But that is not enough. Situation is still very bad," he said.
"It's been very wet in the last few days. It makes the life of the people very miserable. People are scattered all over the place trying to put up shelters and those who are lucky.
"Many don't have shelter. Getting food, getting any assistance is also difficult because they are just all over the place, roads are very congested. People are walking bare feet in the mud. I am very concerned about the situation". "This is a very extraordinary situation because (there are so many people, coming so quickly) in an area so difficult to access; weather has made it difficult.
"On the other side, we are lucky that the UN had presence there. We had infrastructure. We had relations with local administrations because of the refugees there. Staring from the zero would have been difficult."
The UN resident coordinator urged Bangladeshis who are going to distribute food and clothes to do so through the government channels to avoid chaos.

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