By Ahmet Gurhan Kartal
LONDON (AA) – The foreign ministers of the UK and Canada on Tuesday called for greater support from the international community to address the Rohingya refugee crisis.
Speaking on the sidelines of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in London, British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said the plight of the Rohingya will not be forgotten.
“As a Commonwealth community, we need to ensure there is a strong response to the urgent request for humanitarian assistance in Bangladesh,” Johnson said, adding “lives depend on it”.
“The UK is proud to be one of the largest bilateral donors to the crisis, with £59 million committed so far.
“It is right that we use events such as the Commonwealth Summit to ensure that attention does not fade away from the almost 1 million refugees living in Bangladesh”.
He was speaking at a roundtable on “one of the most pressing global issues, the Rohingya crisis,” the British Foreign Office said in a statement.
Johnson and Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland hosted the meeting, which provided an opportunity for Commonwealth countries to stand in solidarity with Bangladesh, which is hosting thousands of Rohingya refugees who have fled Myanmar since August last year.
Foreign ministers from Australia, New Zealand and Bangladesh also attended.
“We want these people to be able to return home,” Johnson said.
“But as the [United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] has said, the conditions in Rakhine are not conducive to safe returns.
The authorities in Myanmar “need to demonstrate that they are serious about the safety and security of the Rohingya. A credible independent investigation into reported atrocities is an important step in this process”, he added.
Freeland said “we stand with our partners in the Commonwealth to remind the international community of the urgent need to assist the Rohingya in both Myanmar and Bangladesh”.
“We commend Bangladesh and host communities for opening their arms to hundreds of thousands Rohingya seeking refuge and for the delivery of life-saving assistance. Bangladesh deserves our gratitude and continued support.”
She added that the international community, including key Commonwealth nations, must rally and reaffirm their support to ensure that the basic needs of those affected by the crisis are met.
“We also need to work together to hold perpetrators of violence to account and actively coordinate our efforts to further promote diversity, inclusiveness, justice and equity for all and support all efforts towards building lasting peace and reconciliation in Myanmar.”
The ministers also discussed the role of the UN in resolving the crisis, including “access for the UNHCR to Rakhine state in advance of any returns process and the upcoming UN Security Council visit to the region”.
The statement said there was a general agreement that any returns must be safe, voluntary, sustainable and dignified and monitored by the UNHCR on both sides of the border.
“Attendees also discussed accountability options and the need for a credible independent investigation into mounting reports of atrocities,” it added.
More than 650,000 refugees, mostly children and women, have fled Myanmar since Aug. 25, 2017 when Myanmar forces launched a bloody crackdown.
The Rohingya, described by the UN as the world's most persecuted people, have faced heightened fears of attack since dozens were killed in communal violence in 2012.
At least 9,000 Rohingya were killed in Rakhine state from Aug. 25 to Sept. 24, according to Doctors Without Borders.
In a December report, the humanitarian organization said the deaths of 71.7 percent or 6,700 Rohingya were caused by violence. They include 730 children below the age of 5.
The UN has documented mass gang rapes, killings — including of infants and young children — brutal beatings and disappearances committed by security personnel. In a report, UN investigators said such violations may have constituted crimes against humanity.