One year after the latest exodus of Rohingya refugees began, UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Cate Blanchett appealed to the UN Security Council to provide much-needed support in Bangladesh, as well as to ensure conditions in Myanmar that would allow refugees to return.
“It is imperative that governments, development and humanitarian agencies, the private sector and individuals work in solidarity to find innovative ways to help the refugees and the Bangladeshi host communities,” Blanchett said in her address today.
In the past year, more than 720,000 Rohingya refugees have fled violence and human rights abuses in Myanmar’s Rakhine State — the fastest-growing refugee crisis in the world in decades. The vast majority who reached Bangladesh are women and children, and more than 40 per cent are under 12 years old.
Blanchett, who is a dedicated advocate for refugees, shared the stories of some of the Rohingya refugees she met during her mission to Bangladesh in March 2018 — stories of grave torture, of women brutally violated and those who witnessed killings of their loved ones.
“Nothing could have prepared me for the extent and depth of the suffering I saw.”
“Nothing could have prepared me for the extent and depth of the suffering I saw,” she said to the political leaders in the room. “I am a mother, and I saw my children in the eyes of every single refugee child I met. I saw myself in every parent.”
Blanchett commended the efforts of Bangladesh in responding to the refugee emergency. The country generously received over 700,000 refugees in three months. “It is one of the most visible and significant gestures of humanity in our time,” she added. “But the needs are vast. The suffering is acute.”
More than 600,000 Rohingya are living in and around Kutupalong, the world’s largest refugee settlement, covering 13 square kilometres — comprising one of the highest population densities on the planet. The scale of the influx, combined with the challenges with the monsoon rains, put great pressure on the Bangladeshi host community, existing facilities and services.
UNHCR’s Goodwill Ambassador underscored that, despite huge needs, only 33 per cent of the Rohingya refugee operation is funded – amounting to less than 70 cents per person per day.
“The Rohingya cannot return to the very conditions they were forced to flee.”
“Refugees need to feed their families,” she said. “They need clean water and sanitation facilities to wash, to cook, to clean. They need a proper house to weather the monsoons and the heat. Their children need an education. Their grandparents need to be cared for.”
But Rohingya refugees need more than shelter, schools or food, Blanchett added — they hope to go back home someday. Today, that is still not possible.
“The Rohingya cannot return to the very conditions they were forced to flee,” she said, and shared the story of Gul Zahar, a Rohingya woman who has survived three waves of displacement from Rakhine State.
Blanchett urged political leaders to help break the “relentless cycle that generations of Rohingya have faced” and to work towards a clear path to full citizenship for the stateless Muslim minority in Myanmar.
“This is not a luxury,” she said. “This is not a privilege. This is a basic right that all of us here enjoy. A right that the Rohingya do not have.”
Blanchett called on the Security Council to “support all efforts to make it a reality” as well as to encourage “more robust international support required to meet urgent and pressing needs” within Bangladesh.
“We have failed the Rohingya before,” she said. “Please, let us not fail them again.”
“We have failed the Rohingya before. Please, let us not fail them again.”
In his opening address to the Council, UN Secretary-General António Guterres stressed that “the response to the crisis must be a global one.”
“Conditions are not yet met for the safe, voluntary, dignified and sustainable return of Rohingya refugees to their places of origin or choice,” said Guterres, and he urged Myanmar authorities to cooperate with the United Nations to ensure “immediate, unimpeded and effective access” for its agencies and partners.
Access is critical to meet the enormous needs, the UN Secretary-General said, and to “allay the fears of refugees who would like to return home.” He reaffirmed the UN’s disposition to develop a plan for refugees to return to their areas of origin “in safety and dignity, in line with international standards and human rights.”
Before returns can happen, Guterres pointed at the need to provide the necessary conditions for stable peace in Rakhine State: “Accountability is essential for genuine reconciliation between all ethnic groups and is a prerequisite for regional security and stability.”
Read the full text of Blanchett's remarks to the UN Security Council on the situation in Myanmar and the Rohingya refugee crisis here.