Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Plight of stateless Rohingyas hinges on citizenship: US official

Wednesday, 10 October 2012 12:48 Mizzima News

The lack of citizenship must be addressed for any long-term solution to the distress in the Rohingya community to occur, a top US refugee official said on Tuesday.

Kelly Clements, a US deputy assistant secretary of the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, spoke to the Open Society Foundation and Refugees International in Washington, DC, on the Rohingya issue.

Conditions are rough in Teknaf camp in Bangladesh. Movement of refugees is restricted and housing is in need of repair or renewal. Photo: UNHCR

In a transcript of his talk, released on Wednesday, he said citizenship is a core concept that defines the relationship between a state and an individual – each has obligations to the other.

“Citizenship is often the gateway to a person’s ability to realize a range of human rights and basic services, including freedom of movement, freedom from discrimination, arbitrary arrest and detention, the right to vote, access to education, and property ownership,” he said.

The former Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court, Earl Warren, described citizenship as “the right to have rights,” he said.

For this reason, stateless persons are vulnerable to abuse and exploitation, including gender-based violence, trafficking in persons, and arbitrary arrest and detention, he said.

“Combating statelessness requires first that governments, civil society groups, and international, regional, and local organizations recognize the problem, its causes, and the suffering and indignities it inflicts on millions of people around the world,” he said, calling it an under-recognized issue.

He said the US is the single largest donor to the UN commission of refugees, contributing over $775 million to UNHCR’s work on protection, assistance and statelessness this year.

“The Rohingya’s ethnic identity and origin are highly disputed,” he said. “While some historical accounts note that they are indigenous to the kingdom of Arakan since the 9th century, which at times, also occupied southern parts of modern Bangladesh; others claim that Rohingya migrated to the region during British colonialism. This latter claim has consistently fueled anti-Rohingya sentiment, leading to periodic tension and violence against the Rohingya by the former military regime after Burma gained independence.”

He said approximately 800,000 stateless Rohingya live in a region that has experienced significant displacement and periodic violence over decades.

“Much needs to be done: to reduce tensions, to improve the humanitarian situation, and to work towards a sustainable and just solution for all those who have suffered from the conflict and longer-term deprivation of rights,” he said.

“Some of the tough issues to be addressed include lasting security and stability, freedom of movement for Rakhine and Rohingya, protection (and when I say protection, including the provision of physical security and basic rights), and unimpeded humanitarian access and assistance to meet basic immediate needs.”

He said that at the same time as the Burmese government works to address the underlying causes of ethnic conflict, “We believe a regional approach is necessary to address mixed flows of refugees and migrants by land and sea and ensure that those fleeing are treated humanely.”

He said, “Sadly, solutions to this protracted displacement appear increasingly elusive. I noticed a definite increase in tension and desperation since my last trip in 2011, and an escalation in humanitarian need. School enrollment is down as parents pull children from classes to become income earners, and malnutrition rates exceed emergency levels and continue to rise. Unfortunately, at the same time, organizations are facing greater obstacles to help ameliorate the situation.

“In our field visits to the official camps, refugees demonstrated for the right to nationality, highlighted human rights violations, and advocated for more services and education for their children. Outside the camps, the undocumented Rohingya population suffers even more without access to school, health care or decent shelter,” he said.

He said the US would continue to work to organize an effective plan to address the Rohingya issue involving Burma, Bangladesh and the international community.

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