NEW YORK: Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad yesterday called for an immediate end to the Rohingya crisis, saying the international community must put the matter squarely on its radar.
Speaking at his first engagement since arriving in New York for the 74th Session of the United Nations General Assembly, he said it was clear that the Myanmar government was unwilling to take any action to resolve the crisis.
“Therefore, it is left to us, the international community, to do something about the situation,” he said at the “Rohingya Crisis – A Way Forward” event at the UN headquarters here.
For a start, he said, the UN should play its role.
“But its silence (on the Rohingya issue) is deafening,” he said, taking aim at the world body which is holding its annual gathering this week.
Mahathir also spoke plainly on what he said had transpired in Myanmar’s western Rakhine state from where members of the Rohingya Muslim ethnic community have fled in droves in search of safety.
“Let’s start by calling a spade, a spade. What happened in the Rakhine state is genocide. What took place were mass killings, systematic rape and other gross violations of human rights,” he said at the event which was also attended by his Bangladeshi counterpart Sheikh Hasina Wazed.
Mahathir said this resulted in the Rohingyas fleeing the country en masse, most of whom ended up in Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh.
“We commend Bangladesh for all it has done in hosting more than 1.2 million Rohingya refugees,” he said, adding that Malaysia, for its part, had also tried to do what it could.
Apart from rendering humanitarian assistance, Malaysia operates a field hospital in Cox’s Bazar and hosts close to 100,000 registered Rohingya refugees, alongside with many more who are unregistered.
“While this may seem like a small number compared to those in Bangladesh, plenty of resources have been dedicated to allow them a decent life while they await relocation to a third country. We will continue to help the Rohingya within our means and capacity,” Mahathir said.
“We hope others will join us and Bangladesh in our resolve to end the miseries that have befallen the Rohingya. We need to put an end to the crisis, and we need to do it now.”
The longer the refugees stayed in the camps, he said, the more desperate their situation would become.
“As it is, the refugees have become vulnerable to other forms of exploitation. They become likely targets for crossborder crimes such as human trafficking and sex slavery, among others. In other words, they can only see a bleak future ahead.”
He said the situation in Myanmar had not improved as many Rohingya had become internally displaced persons or IDPs, languishing in camps in Rakhine.
When the world compared the IDP camps to concentration camps, he added, the Myanmar government had been quick to deny it.
“Yet, the Myanmar authorities have denied access to some UN officials and humanitarian aid workers. If Myanmar has nothing to hide, why bar others from seeing the situation in Rakhine? Let these officials and aid workers visit, inspect and assist those living in the camps,” he said.
He said Myanmar should prove that it is serious about alleviating the crisis, and that repatriation should be the main priority.
He said two attempts had been made to repatriate some of the refugees, both of which had failed.
“Reasons for this are obvious. No one would return if they do not feel that their safety is guaranteed. On this, Malaysia will continue to insist that repatriation be done in a safe, voluntary and dignified manner,” he said.
He added that this could only be done by granting full citizenship to the Rohingya.
“However, the Myanmar authorities have manipulated the Rohingya issue to incite fear, hatred and violence. Thus, merely considering the idea of granting citizenship is unacceptable,” he said.
Without Security Council action, he said, others must do their part to resolve the crisis and bring perpetrators to justice.
He commended the efforts of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to address the Rohingya issue at an international level and for the decision to bring the matter to the International Court of Justice.
“We hope other countries will support the OIC to ensure that the perpetrators do not get away with the heinous crimes that they have committed,” he said.