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US pitches for Myanmar citizenship for Rohingya refugees

January 24, 2015

The US sees the “real solution” to the Rohingya refugee issue lies in their going back to Myanmar when the situation changes in the Rakhine state.

International pressure could play a part in changing that situation, Assistant Secretary of State of the Department of Population, Refugees and Migration Anne Richard said on Friday before leaving Dhaka.

She was here on four-day tour to ‘learn about’ Rohingya refugee issues after her more than a week-long visit to Myanmar.

During her maiden visit to Bangladesh, she also went to the camps in Cox’s Bazaar to learn firsthand about the living conditions of the refugees.

She also spoke at a seminar at the Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies (BIISS). There she said Rohingyas deserved Burmese citizenship to end their statelessness, which she identified as a root cause of their plight and displacement.

On Friday at a media roundtable at American Club, she once again thanked Bangladesh for sheltering hundreds of thousands of Rohingya population over the decades and said it became an “important model” for rest of the world.

She said when she talked with them at the Cox’s Bazaar camps they also acknowledged that “this is a generous move” on the part of Bangladesh.

“They are very grateful”.

She asked them where they would like to live – Bangladesh or Burma.

“They said they would rather be here even as the conditions are not perfect (in camps). They enjoy certain amount of freedom here which they just don’t have in their home country.”

She said the situation in Rakhine state was not improving with the spirit of democratic reform in that country.

And to improve that, she believed international pressure could play a part.

“It’s pressure from the governments like us that interest the Burmese.

“They would like to have military-to-military relationship with the US military and that’s not going to happen until they have human rights in their country.

“They would like to have economic interest that is being explored but it could all be undone by the problems in Rakhine state,” she said.

She said the best part was that the US government, including its military, was “very clear in speaking in one voice” on Myanmar.

Rohingya refugee issue is a major irritant in Bangladesh-Myanmar relations.

Bangladesh has given shelter to thousands of refugees who fled the Rakhine province following sectarian clashes spread over the years, but Myanmar refused to grant them citizenship.

The assistant secretary said Bangladesh was not the only country raising the issue with Naypyidaw.

“This has become a major piece of foreign relations between many countries and Myanmar.”

“There is lot of economic interest in Burma as it is opening up, but we have to make sure that human rights are not neglected and that’s why our Ambassador, Secretary of State and even President raised it directly with Burmese government in a number of visits.

“Every single American government leaders going there are raising the issue,” she added.

“Our dream of course is that Rohingya people are gerting a place in Burmese society in Rakhine state and able to live with their neighbours, the Rakhine Buddhists, in a peaceful place where both communities thrive.”

She said this US dream was shared with Bangladesh.

“I know it’s possible,” she said.

As the US takes refugees from different parts of the world, the assistant secretary said settlement in a third country cannot be a solution.

“People who can never go back home, settlement in a third country is definitely an option.

“The real solution for most Rohingya is that we should strive for this that they go home.”

She said Myanmar authorities also had “responsibility” to make changes so that their people can go back home.

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