Top American Senators have asked the US and the international community to ensure that the return of over 6,50,000 Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh to Myanmar was voluntary, safe and in dignified manner. A bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced a resolution in the Senate which among other called on the UN to consider the feasibility of Bangladesh’s proposal for a “safe zone” or for a peacekeeping mission to protect and defend vulnerable communities under the international supervision.
The resolution has been introduced by Senators Jeff Merkley, Todd Young, Tim Kaine and John McCain. “The crimes that have been perpetrated against the Rohingyas are horrific and will haunt us for generations to come,” Senator Merkley said. The Democratic Senator from Ohio had led a congressional fact-finding mission to Myanmar and Bangladesh in November.
“In the refugee camps in Bangladesh, I spoke with Rohingya who described systemic campaigns of rape and murder. I was shown the burns of women who fled as their homes burned around them,” he said. “I saw the drawings made by children that depicted the Myanmar’s military shooting innocent villagers as they fled. After a campaign of such violent ethnic cleansing, we must ensure that any repatriation of the Rohingya to their homeland is voluntary, safe and dignified,” Merkley said.
Over 6,50,000 Rohingya fled to Bangladesh following a brutal crackdown by the Myanmar army in last August, while more than 1,00,000 fled after a bout of violence in October 2016. Bangladesh and Myanmar had agreed for repatriation of the refugees. Myanmar had agreed to take back from January 23 the Rohingyas from squalid camps in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar district, where they have sought shelter. But, Bangladesh has delayed the repatriation process saying “much more work was to be done”.
Other Senators who have joined the resolution include Dianne Feinstein, Thom Tillis, Dick Durbin, Marco Rubio, Chris Van Hollen, Ron Wyden, Edward J Markey, Elizabeth Warren, Tina Smith, Sherrod Brown and Chris Coons.
Noting that the systematic human rights abuses committed against the Rohingya people in Myanmar have shocked all people of conscience, Senator McCain said since August, more than 6,50,000 innocent men women and children have been forced to flee a campaign of unspeakable violence that the United Nations has called a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing”. McCain is Chairman of the powerful Senate Armed Services Committee.
“Now, as the governments of Myanmar and Bangladesh move forward with repatriation plans, many Rohingya believe their return home will be met with more violence. “These displaced families deserve to have confidence that their return will be safe, voluntary and dignified. The US and the international community should stand for nothing less,” he said.
Senator Todd Young alleged that systematic and deplorable campaign of violence against the Rohingya and other ethnic minorities by the Myanmar military has displaced hundreds of thousands of people. “I look forward to working with the administration and the international community to ensure refugee returns are voluntary, safe and dignified,” he said.
Senator Tim Kaine said that the “continued persecution” and “horrific ethnic cleansing” of the Rohingya by the Myanmar military must stop, “and we will not waiver until the perpetrators are held accountable”. Meanwhile, the US State Department has welcomed the delay in repatriation of Rohingyas.
“We understand that that agreement that you are speaking about was delayed. We certainly think that that’s a good idea,” the State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert told reporters at her daily news conference. “When the Rohingya are to go home, it needs to not only be safe, it needs to be done on a voluntary fashion and it needs to be done in a dignified fashion. People can’t be forced to go home when they don’t feel like they are safe,” she said in response to a question.
Democratic Senator Ed Markey said “Bangladesh is right to delay Rohingya return to Myanmar”. “Forced repatriation was never the right course of action. The Rohingya must feel safe before they return to their villages, which were burned,” he said.