US official for Myanmar Judith Cefkin urges Bangladesh

The United States yesterday urged Dhaka to allow Rohingyas if they escape from violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine state and permit non-government organisations to provide humanitarian assistance in two refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar.

The call was made by visiting US Senior Advisor on Myanmar Judith Cefkin during meetings with the senior officials of the foreign ministry in the morning.

Dhaka reaffirmed that it would continue to pursue dialogue with Myanmar to resolve the issue of early repatriation of refugees and undocumented Rohingyas bilaterally.

At the breakfast meeting, Foreign Secretary Shahidul Haque led a team comprising the foreign office director generals of the UN, South East Asia and Americas divisions.

Bangladesh has been preventing Rohingyas fleeing the violence in Rakhine state since mid-2012, and also banned operations of three international NGOs in Cox’s Bazar in July 2012 for illegally providing aid to Rohingya intruders.

There are 30,000 registered refugees in the two official camps, while more than 300,000 unregistered refugees from Myanmar live in makeshift camps and in villages in Cox’s Bazar, near the Myanmar border.

A highly placed source in the ministry, who was present at the meeting, told The Daily Star that the US official thanked Bangladesh for sheltering Rohingyas and other undocumented population from Myanmar over the decades. But she requested not to turn away those fleeing the sectarian violence, persecution in Rakhine, the source added.

The official said the US had apparently softened on its stance on the three said NGOs, as it did not insist on allowing their operation. “It may be USA’s policy shift.” Cefkin just requested to allow NGOs having global experience in providing humanitarian assistance, like health, education, to the Rohingya refugees, the official added.

Later, talking to a group of reporters at the American Centre, Cefkin said Washington was actively engaged in dialogue with the Myanmar government on restoring peace and stability in Rakhaine state for ensuring safe return of Rohingyas from Bangladesh.

She said a congenial environment should be created by the Myanmar government so the Rohingyas could return to their homeland voluntarily and safely.

The official called it a complex issue requiring time to settle down with the improvement of the situation there, and said this was not the time to talk about their return.

Cefkin, who came here on Sunday and left for Myanmar yesterday, said the US was aiding the Bangladesh government through UNHCR and International Organization for Migration and other NGOs to support the Rohingya people.

In reply to a question about the security concern facing Bangladesh as many Rohingyas are reportedly engaged in crimes and terrorist activities in the country, she said Bangladesh would obviously safeguard its border from extremist activities.

“Rohingya refugees should be treated with dignity so they hopefully would not be tempted to any nefarious activities,” she said.

About resettlement of Rohingyas, she said the US had already resettled some refugees and was well prepared to resettle more if there was interest. Earlier, the US official called on State Minister for Foreign Affairs Shahriar Alam at his office and discussed various issues including the Rohingya refugees.