US releases over $40 million in aid for Rohingya

A Rohingya refugee boy jostles for aid in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh Sept 20, 2017.
A Rohingya refugee boy jostles for aid in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh Sept 20, 2017.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON - The US State Department is releasing an additional US$32 million (S$43 million) in humanitarian assistance for Rohingya refugees displaced by violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine state.

Most of the money – slightly over US$28 million - is for Bangladesh and the rest for Myanmar, Acting Assistant Secretary of State Simon Henshaw told reporters in New York.

State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said: “The aid will go help Rohingya who’ve fled to Bangladesh, internally displaced persons in Rakhine State, and host communities.”

“The new funding brings US humanitarian assistance to internally displaced persons in Burma and refugees from Burma in the region to nearly US$95 million in Fiscal Year 2017.  It reflects the US commitment to help address the unprecedented magnitude of suffering and urgent humanitarian needs of the Rohingya people.”

The assistance represents around 25 per cent of appeals from various organisations, Mr Henshaw said.

“We’re looking for other nations to follow us and participate in funding these appeals as well,” he added. “Today’s funding that we’re announcing is going to the International Organisation for Migration, Unicef, UNHCR, some NGOs, and a few other organisations that we work with.”

Mr Henshaw applauded Bangladesh’s government for its generosity in accepting the Rohingya refugees – over 400,000 in possibly the most rapid forced migration in that region since the 1971 exodus from Bangladesh to India.

“We continue to call on the Burmese Government to grant access to international humanitarian organisations to assist displaced and vulnerable populations in Rakhine State.  It’s imperative that security forces cease operations against civilians and ensure the safety of communities being threatened by vigilante groups.”

Asked if the previous Barack Obama administration had been too optimistic in supporting Myanmar’s transition to democracy, Mr Henshaw said: “I think we always knew that this would be a very difficult road to follow, and it has proven to be so.”

“We certainly continue to support democracy in Burma and will continue to work in that direction,” he said.

“The Rohingya problem is a longstanding problem in Burma of which we have long urged previous and current Burmese governments to take steps to solve.  Former UN Secretary-General (Kofi) Annan has recommendations which we feel should be followed and lay out a good roadmap for the direction the government should be going.”

The announcement of the additional aid came hours after US Vice-President Mike Pence told the UN Security Council images of violence and refugees from Myanmar’s Rakhine state had “shocked the American people and decent people all over the world.”

“We see heartbreak and assaults on human rights and innocent civilians that's ultimately endangering the sovereignty and security of the entire region,” Mr Pence said.

“Burmese security forces responded to militant attacks on government outposts with terrible savagery - burning villages, driving the Rohingya from their homes,” he said. “And now we’re witnessing a historic exodus.”

Asked for his response to Myanmar State Councillor Aung San Suu Kyi’s speech in Myanmar on Tuesday, Mr Henshaw told reporters: “We welcome Aung San Suu Kyi’s announcement… (that) the government to welcoming those who fled Rakhine State back to their homes.  We encourage the government to act quickly on this commitment while ensuring the safety and well being of returnees.”