The United States has announced more than $127 million in new humanitarian aid for Rohingya refugees, while the leaders of Bangladesh and Malaysia called on Myanmar to create conditions for repatriating the stateless people.
More than 740,000 Rohingya fled from Myanmar’s Rakhine state to neighboring Bangladesh amid a brutal counter-offensive launched by the military in response to attacks by Rohingya insurgents on border police and army posts in August 2017.
“This funding will help address the emergency needs of some of the more than 900,000 refugees in Bangladesh, many of whom are Rohingya women and children from Rakhine State,” U.S. State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in a statement.
Ortagus said the United States remained the leading contributor to efforts to ease the Rohingya humanitarian crisis, providing more than $669 million since the violence broke out in Rakhine two years ago.
“However, the United States cannot meet the crisis’s tremendous funding needs alone,” she said in the statement issued Tuesday, as she urged Myanmar “to create the conditions that would allow for voluntary, safe, dignified, and sustainable returns, based on the informed consent of those who have been forcibly displaced.”
According to the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR, more than 1 million Rohingya refugees are sheltering mostly in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar district, including those who fled earlier bouts of violence in Myanmar.
The U.S. funding was announced in New York, where Malaysian leader Mahathir Mohamad, during a high-level side event of the United Nations General Assembly, said Myanmar “should demonstrate that it is serious in alleviating the crisis.”
“Two attempts have been made to repatriate some of the refugees. Both have failed,” Mahathir said in a speech on Tuesday. “Reasons for this are obvious. No one would return if they do not feel that their safety is guaranteed.”
A fresh attempt to return thousands of the refugees to Myanmar collapsed last month, with UNHCR and Bangladeshi officials saying that none of those interviewed among the 3,450 people cleared for repatriation were willing to go back.
“We need to put an end to the crisis and we need to do it now,” Mahathir said.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who was at the same meeting with Mahathir, said Myanmar must guarantee security for the Rohingya and undertake measures to build trust by allowing refugee leaders to visit Rakhine.
“I reiterate, the root of the Rohingya problem lies in Myanmar and the solution has to be found in Myanmar,” the Bangladeshi state news service BSS quoted Hasina as telling reporters. “They must be able to return to their homes where they lived for centuries.”
Refugees have given U.N. investigators horrific accounts of rape, murder and the burning of their homes as they escaped from Rakhine. Myanmar military officials have rejected the claims of atrocities, saying their troops were conducting legitimate counter-offensives against militant attacks in the state.
Rohingya in refugee camps in southeastern Bangladesh have called on Myanmar’s government to grant them full citizenship rights and ensure their safety in the Buddhist-majority country before they decide to return under a repatriation agreement, which Myanmar and Bangladesh signed in November 2017.
Mahathir, in his speech at the U.N., said the Rohingya “faced untold brutality and were even at risk of seeing an entire generation wiped out.”
“One thing is clear,” he said, “the longer the refugees stay in the camps, the more desperate their situation becomes.”