US to give $32m for refugees – ‘Take back Rohingyas’

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Rohingya Muslim men, who crossed over from Myanmar into Bangladesh, wait for their turn to collect food aid near Kutupalong refugee camp, Bangladesh, on Sept 19. (AP)

DHAKA, Sept 20, (Agencies): Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has issued a new call for Myanmar to take back the some 420,000 Rohingya Muslims who have fl ed violence in the Buddhist-dominated country. Hasina, speaking to Bangladeshi activists in New York where she is attending the UN General Assembly, also called for greater international pressure on Myanmar over the new crisis which has unfolded in the past three weeks, media reports said. “We have told Myanmar, they are your citizens, you must take them back, keep them safe, give them shelter, there should not be any oppression and torture,” she told a meeting late Tuesday in New York.

The prime minister said Bangladesh was making diplomatic efforts to persuade Myanmar to take back the refugees. “But the Myanmar government is not responding to the calls. Rather, Myanmar is laying landmines along the border to stop the return of Rohingyas to their homeland,” she said. Myanmar’s de-facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi said in a speech hours earlier that the country would take back verified refugees. Myanmar considers the Rohingya illegal migrants from Bangladesh and refuses them citizenship, even though many have lived there for decades.

At a meeting of Islamic nations on the sidelines of the UN assembly, Hasina said Yangon was spearheading a state-sponsored propaganda campaign to call the Rohingya ‘Bengalis’, adding that they must be given Myanmar citizenship.

Hasina sought “urgent humanitarian assistance” from Muslim nations to cope with the infl ux of Rohingya who have fl ed what she called “ethnic cleansing”, the state BSS news agency reported. “It is an unbearable human catastrophe. I have visited them and listened to the stories of their grave sufferings, particularly of women and children,” she said. “I would like you all to come to Bangladesh and hear from them about the atrocities in Myanmar,” she said. The majority of the refugees are women and children. Meanwhile, the United States will contribute nearly $32 million in humanitarian aid to help Rohingya Muslim refugees, the State Department said Wednesday, in the Trump administration’s first major response to the mass exodus from Myanmar.

The new money for food, medical care, water, sanitation and shelter comes as the US joins a growing chorus of international condemnation over the minority group’s plight. In less than a month, some 421,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh, one of the world’s poorest countries, as the United Nations and others raise allegations of ethnic cleansing. The crisis has threatened to jeopardize Myanmar’s US-aided shift toward democracy after five decades of harsh military rule. Former President Barack Obama helped shepherd that transition in what is considered one of his key foreign policy achievements. President Donald Trump has been less attentive to the country, also known as Burma.

The exodus has also emerged as major blemish on the record of Myanmar’s civilian leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, who maintained close ties to the Obama administration. Simon Henshaw, the top US diplomat for refugee and migration issues, said the US applauds Suu Kyi’s recent call for the Rohingya to return but is urging her to ensure the situation is safe for them to come home. “We need the government to take a lot further effort to secure the area, to protect the people,” Henshaw said in an interview on the sidelines of the annual United Nations General Assembly meetings.

“We’re concerned about the reports of attacks, extrajudicial murders, rapes, burning of villages.” The State Department will provide the money from an existing account for refugee and migration issues, officials said, and will coordinate the aid through the International Committee of the Red Cross and affiliated local groups. Last month, Rohingya insurgents attacked Myanmar security forces, leading to a military crackdown in which Rohingya villages have been burned and hundreds killed. This week Suu Kyi used her first speech on the crisis to defend her country’s actions.

Though Suu Kyi said the “great majority” of Muslims in the confl ict zone stayed put and less than half of villages were emptied, the US has been skeptical about that assertion. “We don’t have the access to evaluate that,” Henshaw said. “But 420,000 people moving into Bangladesh suggests the vast majority of Rohingya are affected.”

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