Asean ready to help Myanmar with safe return of Rohingya refugees: Vivian Balakrishnan

"To be brutally honest, this is a man-made humanitarian disaster and something which should not be happening in this day and age," Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said of the Rohingya crisis.
"To be brutally honest, this is a man-made humanitarian disaster and something which should not be happening in this day and age," Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said of the Rohingya crisis.PHOTO: GOV.SG

The next "key milestone" that Asean wants to see in the ongoing Rohingya crisis is the repatriation of refugees to Myanmar, said Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan.

His response to Mr Christopher de Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) echoes remarks he made on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York last Saturday.

In Parliament yesterday, Dr Balakrishnan reiterated: "Specifically, what we said last week to Myanmar was that we expect the voluntary repatriation to begin soon and Asean stands ready to help facilitate that in any way possible."

He said Asean leaders had expressed their grave concern to Myanmar last week over the alleged acts of violence detailed in a recent UN Human Rights Council report on the Rohingya crisis.

"To be brutally honest, this is a man-made humanitarian disaster and something which should not be happening in this day and age," Dr Balakrishnan said.

"I want to emphasise that ultimately the responsibility for resolving this must lie with the government of Myanmar, and... we will hold them to account."

He urged the Myanmar government to implement more of the recommendations made by the UN Advisory Commission on Rakhine State, saying they will address the root causes of the crisis. The proposed measures are aimed at reducing poverty among the Rohingya, improving their basic rights, and promoting trust, harmony and reconciliation between the Rohingya and the broader Myanmar society.

 
 
 

"We need circumstances in which there are opportunities for reconciliation, for assurances of justice and equality and, ultimately, for better prospects for all communities," Dr Balakrishnan said.

"Otherwise this long-term, inter-communal, complex situation will fester. If this festers, it will create more opportunities for extremism and, ultimately, terrorism, which will not respect boundaries and will represent a clear and present threat throughout South-east Asia and beyond," he added.

Replying to Dr Intan Azura Mokhtar (Ang Mo Kio GRC), Dr Balakrishnan said Asean cannot compel Myanmar to take any steps.

What Asean can do is to keep the issue on the agenda, and tell the Myanmar government it hopes for a viable, good long-term outcome and it stands ready to help, he added.

Meanwhile, the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh deserve and need assistance, he said.

Dr Balakrishnan noted that Singapore sent a consignment of aid to the refugees in Bangladesh last year and may do so again, depending on the outcome of an assessment of their future needs.

Mr Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC) asked when this assessment might be completed, to which Dr Balakrishnan replied that Singapore is in touch with the Bangladeshi government. He added: "But my concern goes beyond just humanitarian assistance. You actually need a long-term solution."

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 03, 2018, with the headline 'Asean ready to help Myanmar with safe return of refugees: Vivian'. Print Edition | Subscribe