Bangladesh Urges New US Administration to Appoint Special Envoy on Rohingya

Shailaja Neelakantan and Jesmin Papri
Washington and Dhaka
2021-02-24
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Bangladesh Urges New US Administration to Appoint Special Envoy on Rohingya Rohingya refugees hold placards as they participate in a rally to observe World Refugee Day at the Rohingya refugee camp in Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh, June 20, 2019.
[Reuters]

Bangladesh’s top diplomat asked the United States to appoint a special envoy for the issue of Myanmar’s ethnic Rohingya who have fled state-backed discrimination and violence in their homeland, officials in Dhaka said Wednesday.

A.K. Abdul Momen, who is on an official visit to the U.S., also urged Washington to take the lead in pressing Myanmar on the repatriation of around a million Rohingya refugees sheltering in his country, Bangladesh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement about a phone meeting on Tuesday night between him and his new U.S. counterpart, Antony Blinken.

Momen “[r]ecommended that the U.S. appoint a Special Envoy on Rohingya, in order to press Myanmar to create a conducive environment for the repatriation of the displaced Rohingya to Myanmar,” the ministry said about the first high-level meeting between Bangladeshi officials and officials from the Biden administration.

He also “[e]mphasized that the U.S. should take the lead and bring the international community together to put enough political pressure on Myanmar to create condition for the sustainable return of the Rohingya,” the ministry said.

Blinken, meanwhile, tweeted about the meeting, saying the new U.S. administration wanted to strengthen ties between the two countries

“Good to speak with Foreign Minister A. K. Abdul Momen and congratulate him on Bangladesh’s 50th anniversary of independence. We affirmed the strong, enduring U.S.-Bangladesh relationship and look forward to working together to address challenges in South Asia and the Indo-Pacific,” Blinken said.

Momen also expressed his gratitude to the U.S. government for its humanitarian and political support to Bangladesh to cope with the Rohingya exodus from Myanmar.

The United States has been the leading donor to the humanitarian response to the crisis in Myanmar’s Rakhine state and in neighboring Bangladesh, having provided nearly $1.2 billion since August 2017, when a brutal military offensive in Rakhine drove hundreds of thousands of Rohingya across the border.

Most of the Rohingya live in 34 refugee camps in and around southeastern Cox’s Bazar district.

‘Durable solution’ to refugee crisis

Secretary Blinken expressed appreciation to Bangladesh for sheltering the Rohingya and said his government supported Dhaka’s efforts and understood fully the pressure the crisis had created on resources in the South Asian country, the Bangladeshi statement said.

In late 2017, Bangladesh and Myanmar officials agreed to begin repatriating Rohingya the next year, but those efforts stalled because refugees were reluctant to return to what they said was a hostile environment in Rakhine.

And three years later, Rohingya Muslims keep defying COVID-19 movement restrictions to flee Rakhine – many of them for destinations in Southeast Asia – so they can leave behind discrimination, police and other officials told BenarNews sister entity Radio Free Asia last month.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has time and again raised the issue of the refugees and the toll that sheltering them has taken on Bangladesh. She did so again at the United Nations General Assembly last September.

“More than three years have elapsed. Regrettably, not a single Rohingya could be repatriated,” she told the world body in a pre-recorded speech.

“The problem was created by Myanmar, and its solution must be found in Myanmar. I request the international community to play a more effective role for a solution to the crisis.”

Blinken and Momen discussed how to arrive at “a durable solution to the Rohingya refugee crisis,” according to a readout from the State Department about their meeting.

Blinken and Momen also discussed the political situation in Myanmar where the military toppled the elected government of leader Aung San Suu Kyi in a coup on Feb. 1, the readout said.

The U.S. Secretary of State expressed concern about the disruption in the democratic process in Myanmar, while his Bangladesh counterpart thanked Washington for imposing sanctions on some people.

The U.S. Treasury Department has imposed sanctions on 12 current or former military officials in Myanmar since the coup.

“Thanking the U.S. government for imposing sanctions on some individuals, [Momen] encouraged the U.S. government to take more stringent measures like imposing economic sanctions” and withdrawing the preferential trade facilities to Myanmar, the Bangladeshi ministry said. 

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