12. Deputy Darragh O’Brien asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will provide an update on the Rohingya; the efforts being made by the EU and the international community to address the humanitarian crisis; and if he will make a statement on the matter. (Question 11078/18 asked on 08 Mar 2018)
Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade (Deputy Simon Coveney): In the months since military security operations began in Rakhine State, Myanmar in August 2017, more than 680,000 refugees, mostly Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh. Most of these people have settled in refugee camps that have existed in the region since the early 1990s where conditions are precarious and ongoing international efforts will be required to sustain those living in the camps. An estimated 120,000 Rohingya remain in Northern Rakhine and humanitarian access there has been heavily restricted.
The exodus of refugees has been accompanied by credible claims of serious human rights violations by the Myanmar Security Forces. These include reports of killing of civilians, sexual and gender based violence, arbitrary arrests, and the burning of Rohingya villages. Recent allegations of the existence of mass graves within Rakhine State have also emerged, which is deeply concerning.
As access to the region remains restricted, independent confirmation of these reports remains challenging but they absolutely reinforce the need for the Myanmar authorities to heed the calls by the international community for access to the area by humanitarian workers and the media in order to assess and verify what has occurred in the region especially since last August.
It also reinforces the importance of the role being played by the U.N. special envoy on human rights in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, who has said that the military’s operations against the Rohingya bear “the hallmarks of a genocide”.
There has been widespread international condemnation of the actions of the Myanmar Security Forces in Rakhine State and the international community is continuing to press for a positive and long-term solution to the situation in Rakhine State, including for the Rohingya community, and for the large number of refugees who are now situated in Bangladesh. For our part, Ireland has sought to deploy political pressure with the aim of easing the crisis through bilateral contacts in Myanmar and via participation in the EU and UN.
Recently, Ireland was an active participant in the formulation of new EU Council Conclusions on Myanmar adopted by the EU Foreign Affairs Council on 26 February. These conclusions condemn the human rights violations in Myanmar, and call for the implementation of the findings of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State. The conclusions also call for the voluntary, safe and dignified return of refugees to Myanmar. The new Council conclusions invite High Representative/Vice-President Mogherini to make proposals for targeted restrictive measures against senior military officers of the Myanmar armed forces responsible for serious human rights violations. I would like to express my support of these conclusions and hope that the forthcoming proposals will send a clear message to those in military control in Myanmar.
At the UN, the 37th Session of the UN Human Rights Council is currently ongoing in Geneva where the situation in Myanmar is one of the main topics of discussion. The Council will receive an update from UN Special Rapporteur to Myanmar Yanghee Lee as well as the UN mandated independent international fact-finding mission. Minister of State Cannon addressed the Council on 27th February and outlined Ireland’s ongoing concerns in the matter.
Ireland and the international community are also continuing to support the humanitarian response to the refugee crisis. In October 2017, the EU hosted a Pledging Conference on the Rohingya Refugee Crisis in Geneva where Ireland pledged €2 million in direct support. We provided €1 million 2017, and an additional €1 million has been allocated for 2018. In addition, Ireland’s Rapid Response Corps have provided humanitarian expertise to the international response.
My Department will continue to liaise closely with EU and other international partners to contribute to the international response to this issue including through our Embassy in Thailand who are closely monitoring the situation.