Parliament: Singapore ready to send more aid to Rohingya refugees, but probably after they return to Myanmar

Rohingya refugees gathering near a fence at the "no man's land" zone at the Bangladesh-Myanmar border in Maungdaw district, Rakhine, on Aug 24, 2018 PHOTO: EPA - EFE

SINGAPORE - More aid is available for Rohingya refugees, but Singapore would prefer to send it when they have returned to Myanmar, Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said.

The minister, in his reply to Mr Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC), said this is partly because conditions have improved at Cox's Bazar, the camp with thousands of refugees who had fled the crisis in Myanmar's Rakhine State.

Singapore sent humanitarian supplies, including tents, blankets, food and medical items worth about $270,000, in October last year.

"On further consignments of aid, yes, we are prepared to (send them) but I would consider targeting the aid to the refugees when they return," he said.

Dr Balakrishnan noted that Mr Ng had visited Cox's Bazar earlier in the year, while the minister himself had paid a visit just this month.

"The conditions under which the refugees are living now are much, much better than when they first arrived."

He added: "You know, I used to be environment minister, so I noticed things like drains, latrines, water supply, food supply, cooking gas and ability. Actually, a lot of work has been done on the Bangladesh side."

He said the greater concern is the conditions the refugees will return to in Myanmar, a point he also made in his reply to Mr Chris de Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC), who had asked whether enough was being done to ensure the refugees who return would not face the same threats to their safety as when they left .

Dr Balakrishnan said there are many details still to be sorted out.

"The key point is this: It has to be voluntary, it has to be safe and it has to be dignified," he said.

He added: "Having spoken to some of the refugees also, I think the refugees' key concern is security. Having risked life and limb to get across into the refugee camp, their question is: 'Will it be safe for me to return? How will my neighbours, the community, the other communities in Rakhine State view my return?'

"They've asked what would be their livelihood because in the end, nobody wants to be a refugee. Everyone wants to get a job, a good job and to be able to support their family."

Earlier, when giving a statement in Parliament on Singapore's year in foreign relations, Dr Balakrishnan said that while the Bangladesh government has done an admirable job of providing humanitarian support, the current situation is unsustainable.

"As long as the refugees remain in the camps, they will have no future prospects," he said.

" We welcome the fact that both sides are in direct, detailed discussions on the preparations for the repatriation. This is an important first step, but there are still many details to be worked out for the displaced persons to return in a safe, secure and dignified manner."

He also said the situation in Rakhine State is of concern to all Asean member states, and that leaders had discussed at the Asean Summit last week how the grouping can support the efforts by Myanmar and Bangladesh for the safe, voluntary repatriation of refugees.

"Asean stands ready to support efforts by all parties to address the root causes of the situation in Rakhine State," he said.

"But ultimately, it is the responsibility of the Myanmar government and the respective stakeholders to reach a viable and durable political solution. As I have said before, we cannot expect any quick fixes."

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