Rohingyas Repatriation: Humanitarian Assistance and Ongoing Initiatives of US

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On August 25, 2017, the Rohingyas living in Myanmar’s Rakhine state were forced to seek refuge in Bangladesh after suffering brutal torture carried out by Myanmar military. Following the incident, the US State Department expressed its concern over allegations of serious human rights violations in Myanmar, including horrific atrocities and burning of villages in Rakhine State. At the time, the US Embassy in Yangon called on Myanmar authorities to allow humanitarian aid access to Rakhine state for the distressed population. The then Vice President of the United States, Mike Pence, expressed the apprehension of the US government at the news of the terrible cruelty and genocide against the Rohingyas. Immediately after the incident, the US summoned the Myanmar ambassador to express concern over the crisis. Since then, the US has stood by Bangladesh in dealing with the Rohingya crisis.

The United States seeks justice for the Rohingyas and expects the safe, dignified and voluntary repatriation of the Rohingyas. The US is working with the international community and other stakeholders to ensure that. At the same time the US called on Myanmar to take immediate and strong action to hold those responsible for atrocities against the Rohingyas accountable and call the Rohingya situation “horrendous”. The US State Department called for an investigation into human rights violations in Myanmar based on the report of the United Nations fact-finding mission. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo requested Union Minister Tint Soe in Myanmar’s State Councilor Aung San Suu Kyi’s office to take the necessary steps to hold everyone accountable, including Myanmar’s security forces, involved in these incidents.

As the world’s largest humanitarian donor, the US has been actively responding to the urgent needs of the Rohingyas staying in Myanmar and Bangladesh and allocated nearly $63 million in 2017. Later in May 2018, the US allocated another US$ 44 million, before that the US provided US$ 255 million in aid. In 2019, United Nations announced that to support the Rohingya crisis $920 million are needed, to assist the UN the US at that time announced $60 million in aid for the Rohingyas. The US has provided financial assistance of 449 million dollars from 2017 to 2019 to deal with the Rohingya crisis. Of this, 406 million dollars were spent on the protection of Rohingyas staying in Bangladesh. Since the beginning of the Rohingya crisis, the US has been at the top with humanitarian aid to Bangladesh.

Since the outbreak of violence in Rakhine state of Myanmar, the US has provided $4.6 million in aid to various programs inside Bangladesh. The US considers the brutal torture carried out by the Myanmar army in Rakhine since August 2017 to be clear ethnic cleansing and human rights violations. In 2019, the United States imposed sanctions on four of Myanmar’s top military officials for alleged human rights abuses against the Rohingyas in Rakhine. The US is the first country to take such action against top Myanmar military officials. Sanctions have been imposed on Myanmar Army Chief Min Aung Hlaing, Deputy Commander in Chief Soe Win, Brigadier General Than and Brigadier General Aung Aung for indiscriminate killings and violence in Rakhine State. This is the most severe step taken by the US on the Rohingya issue. The United States is working to continue international pressure on Myanmar to repatriate the Rohingyas.

The US praised the Bangladesh government’s generosity in addressing the Rohingya crisis and its continued efforts to ensure aid reaches the affected population. The US calls on Myanmar to create an environment conducive to voluntary, safe, dignified, and sustainable repatriation for the Rohingyas and to allow uninterrupted and sustained humanitarian access to those in need.

In 2020, the US continued to play a leading role in providing humanitarian assistance to the Rohingya crisis, providing another $59 million in humanitarian assistance. Including this new funding, the total amount of humanitarian assistance provided after 2017 stands at 820 million dollars. In 2021, the United States provided another $180 million in aid to the Rohingyas. The humanitarian assistance of the United States for the Rohingya issue has reached 1.5 billion dollars. More than 1.2 billion dollars were allocated to various programs for the benefit of the nine million Rohingyas in Bangladesh and the affected neighbourhood of five million local residents.

Myanmar’s junta leader Min Aung Hlaing has been charged with crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court after the military seized power in 2021. The United States is planning to take action against Myanmar’s army chief after the ICC’s ruling that he must take responsibility for mass atrocities committed by the security forces in Myanmar. On March 21, 2022, the US recognized the killing, torture and violence carried out by the Myanmar Army in Rakhine State as genocide and crimes against humanity. Through this, the Us formally recognized the Myanmar military’s violence against the Rohingyas as genocide and crimes against humanity.

Bangladesh urged the US to influence ASEAN to persuade Myanmar to take back the Rohingyas and to pressure Myanmar through ASEAN to stop the ongoing atrocities against its own people. Bangladesh has praised the US for providing 152 million dollars in JRP 2022. Since 2017, total grants under the six JRPs have reached $322.11 million, of which the US has given $1.7 billion to the Rohingyas, the highest of any single country. Since August 2017, the total amount of aid given by the United States to deal with the Rohingya crisis is 1.9 billion dollars. The United Nations is working to help the 1.1 million Rohingyas in the world’s largest camp in Cox’s Bazar. To ease pressure on Cox’s Bazar camps Bangladesh government took timely initiative to shift 100000 Rohingyas to Bhasanchar. This plan was initially opposed by the UN and other aid agencies. Later, the UN and Japan joined the project. In August 2022, the US and Canada joined the Bhasanchar project after the UN and Japan. Currently more than 30 thousand Rohingyas are living in Bhasanchar.

Bangladesh has repeatedly called on Western countries to give shelter to the Rohingyas. The US is the first country to accept a portion of Rohingyas in Bangladesh for resettlement in a third country. The US government is highly satisfied to undertake a resettlement program for the most vulnerable Rohingyas. In first phase, the US worked with a list of about 60 Rohingyas. On December 8, 24 Rohingyas left for the US from Bangladesh. After the initial phase is completed, the US will take in more Rohingyas after verification. It is expected that the US will relocate approximately a thousand Rohingyas every year. Bangladesh has never received such a proposal from any other country before. It is expected that the international community will show sincerity in solving the Rohingya problem in Bangladesh through the announcement of the US to rehabilitate the Rohingyas in the current situation and the world conscience will be awakened.

The US stands in solidarity with other countries in the region that have sheltered the Rohingyas, including Bangladesh. The US has urged other donors to increase financial support for humanitarian operations and support for people at risk and affected by violence. The country is also working with the government of Bangladesh, the Rohingyas and people inside Myanmar to find a solution to the crisis. The US has taken the issue of partnering with Bangladesh to help the Rohingyas seriously. US State Department Assistant Secretary julieta valls noyes said that the United States has always stood by the needs of the Rohingyas and Bangladesh.

In September 2022, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina called on the UN to take tangible steps for sustainable Rohingya repatriation. Prime Minister expressed deep concern over Rohingya repatriation as the international community’s attention gradually shifted to Myanmar’s new global and internal conflicts. When the Rohingya resettlement process in the US begins, the importance of the Rohingya problem will be presented to the world anew.

It needs to be established that the Rohingya problem is not just a problem of Bangladesh and Myanmar – it is humanitarian and global. The US has rehabilitated about 10,000 Rohingyas from Malaysia, Thailand and other countries and similarly wants to rehabilitate Rohingyas from Bangladesh. The US has called on Myanmar authorities to politicize human rights to ensure peace in the region.

The US will continue its efforts with the international community to ensure justice and facilitate the conditions for the voluntary return of the Rohingyas to Myanmar. The US believes that implementing the recommendations of the Kofi Annan Commission in Rakhine State would benefit both the Rakhine and Rohingya communities. The US advised the Myanmar authorities to implement the Commission’s recommendations. So far, there has been no credible indication that Myanmar’s ruling elite has made fundamental changes to its Rohingya policies. The resolution of the Rohingya crisis is protracted and is currently increasing the security risk.

In addition to providing humanitarian assistance to address this issue, the US is working with the Myanmar government and locals to ensure the safe return of Rohingyas to Myanmar, including sanctions against Myanmar military officials and calls for humanitarian access to Rakhine state. The US has imposed tough sanctions on Myanmar to force it to change its behavior, end violence and repatriate the Rohingyas. The US also supports efforts to bring perpetrators of the Rohingya genocide to justice and ensure justice for victims. A critical solution to the Rohingya crisis is their safe, voluntary and dignified repatriation to Myanmar. The US is working with the international community to encourage concerted efforts to resolve this crisis. It is hoped that the Rohingya problem will soon see the light of hope as a result of the resolute efforts of the US and the international community.

– Brig Gen (Retd) Hasan Md Shamsuddin, ndc, afwc, psc, MPhil, Researcher on Myanmar, Rohingya and ASEAN affairs (CBGA).

Published in eurasia review [Link]