Rohingya should be allowed to return to Myanmar with full rights but the world needs to ensure they can live with dignity in Bangladesh until then, American film star Angelina Jolie said Tuesday after touring the largest refugee camp on Bangladeshi soil.
The actress and special ambassador for the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR visited the Kutupalong camp, which houses more than 600,000 Rohingya sheltering in southeastern Cox’s Bazar district, on day two of her first humanitarian mission to Bangladesh.
“You have every right to live in security, to be free to practice your religion and to coexist with people of other faiths and ethnicities,” Jolie told Rohingya at the camp as she turned to a crowd of those people without a country, who stood near her while she read out a prepared statement to reporters.
“You have every right not to be stateless, and the way you have been treated shames us all.”
On the first day of her three-day trip to Bangladesh, the 43-year-old Hollywood superstar met with Rohingya women and children at the Chakmarul refugee camp. They told her about alleged abuses suffered at the hands of Myanmar security forces during a brutal crackdown in Rakhine state that followed deadly attacks mounted by Rohingya insurgents in August 2017.
The crackdown led to more than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims seeking shelter across the border in neighboring Cox’s Bazar and other areas.
“It was deeply upsetting to meet the families who have only known persecution and statelessness their whole lives, who speak of being 'treated like cattle,’” Jolie said.
“I also met yesterday some of the many survivors of sexual and gender-based violence, including mass rape. Nearly two years after the beginning of this emergency, there is still a worrying gap in psychosocial services available for refugee survivors. This gap urgently needs to be addressed,” she said, adding that Rohingya refugee children desperately lacked educational opportunities in the camps.
Jolie is due to meet with Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and other government officials in Dhaka on Wednesday. She is visiting the country ahead of the launch of a new humanitarian funding appeal by the United Nations, which will seek nearly $1 billion in extra aid money for managing the Rohingya refugee crisis.
“Until they can return, we have a collective responsibility to ensure that they can live dignified lives here in Bangladesh,” she said of the refugees.
Bangladesh is a “generous country rich in culture and history, but with limited resources,” Jolie added.
“And it cannot be left to shoulder the responsibility of hosting Rohingya refugees alone. So I urge the international community to continue to provide the humanitarian aid necessary to meet the needs of the refugees and support the communities so generously hosting them.”
Jolie also urged authorities in Myanmar “to show the genuine commitment needed to end the cycle of violence and displacement and improve the conditions for all communities in Rakhine State, in line with the recommendations of the Rakhine Advisory Commission, and working together with UNHCR and others.”
After reading her statement aloud, Jolie did not take questions from reporters. UNHCR later released the actress’s remarks via its website.
“All of us want to return home. But we will not go unless we are given citizenship. Our safety and security must be ensured. If we go right now, the military and the Mogh will make us starve to death,” Masud Arakani, a Rohingya leader at the Lambarshia camp refugee camp, which is next to the Kutupalong camp, told BenarNews, using a pejorative name for Buddhists in Rakhine state.