Parliament: Vivian Balakrishnan reiterates call for Myanmar to provide for safe return of Rohingya refugees

Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan had told Singapore media at the United Nations General Assembly on Sept 29, 2018, that the repatriation of Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh should start soon. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

SINGAPORE - The next "key milestone" that Asean wants to see in the ongoing Rohingya crisis is the repatriation of refugees to Myanmar, Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said in Parliament on Tuesday (Oct 2).

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

Dr Balakrishnan had told Singapore media then that the repatriation of Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh should start soon, and Myanmar must ensure that they return to a society where there is security, peace, justice and better prospects for everyone.

In Parliament on Tuesday, 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 expressed their grave concern to Myanmar last week over the alleged acts of violence detailed in a UN Human Rights Council report on the Rohingya crisis, which was published last month.

"And 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.

He urged the government of Myanmar to implement more of the recommendations of a UN's Advisory Commission on Rakhine State, saying they will address the root causes of the crisis.

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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, and 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."

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

"But what we can do is through moral suasion, through persuasion, through transparency and keeping this on the agenda and also telling the Myanmar government that we want and hope for a long-term viable, good outcome and Asean stands ready to help," he added.

Meanwhile, the 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 depending on the outcome of an assessment of their future needs, the Republic may need to do it again.

He added: "I want to emphasis that ultimately the responsibility for resolving this must lie with the government of Myanmar, and... we will hold them to account and they do need to do the right thing and to do the right thing for all the vulnerable, defenceless and innocent victims."

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