September 14, 2017
I rise to speak on the dire situation faced by the Rohingya people in Myanmar in Rakhine State. Rakhine State is the poorest state in Myanmar. The ethnic Rakhine make up the majority of its population, but the Rohingya Muslims make up approximately one-third of the population—around 1.1 million. They live in a state in Myanmar which has some of the highest levels of malnutrition in that country. The Rohingya are not recognised by the Myanmar government as one of the 135 ethnic groups of that country. They are also not considered to be citizens by the Myanmar government.
Earlier this year, I visited Myanmar and Rakhine state with a delegation run by Save the Children. Remarkably, we were able to visit the IDP camps, which tens of thousands of Rohingya people had been forced into following severe operations conducted against them by the military, after a number of police officers were killed in October 2016 by Rohingya insurgents. This year, on 25 August, 12 police officers were killed in attacks by Rohingya insurgents. Again, rather than a proportional response from the Tatmadaw, the Myanmar military, we saw a scorched-earth military response where the military razed thousands of Rohingya homes and villages. Estimates are that 3,000 Rohingya have been killed. There are documented reports of children being killed. There are reports of rape being used as a weapon of war. What we are seeing is ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.
More than 300,000 Rohingya have now fled into Bangladesh. Tens of thousands are trapped at the border and some 40,000 are trapped in no-man’s-land. Those who cross into Bangladesh are treated as migrants with no legal status. Their ability to maintain a safe haven in that country is uncertain at best. It estimated that 140,000 Rohingya remain in IDP camps in Rakhine state. Tragically, food supply to those people is being blocked. I witnessed a dire situation in January, which was a humanitarian crisis then; it has become 100 times worse now. There is a considerable food shortage in the entire region. I note the disturbing reports that the Myanmar government is only distributing food to the ethnic Rakhine.
I welcome the Australian government’s response of an additional $5 million to help in this crisis. The Australian contribution is welcome, but let’s be honest about this: we need to do more. On Monday, agencies in Bangladesh launched an appeal for $77 million to provide life-saving support for over 400,000 Rohingya refugees now residing in camps throughout the area. The Australian government, I believe, should also consider reinstating the suspended autonomous sanctions ban on the Myanmar government. Given the scale of persecution by the Tatmadaw and associated parties and the refugee burden being imposed on Bangladesh, it is appropriate that the targeted travel and financial sanctions are imposed again in relation to Myanmar and members of the Tatmadaw. We have a responsibility to respond as best we can to this crisis. In years to come, we will ask: what did we do?