Singapore prepared to send more aid to Rohingya

Supplies from Singapore being unloaded at the airport in Bangladesh in October last year.
Supplies from Singapore being unloaded at the airport in Bangladesh in October last year. ST FILE PHOTO

Singapore stands ready to send another consignment of aid to Rohingya refugees, but would prefer to do so once 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," the minister said.

Dr Balakrishnan noted Mr Ng had visited Cox's Bazar earlier in the year, while the minister himself paid a visit 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... 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 Christopher de Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC), who asked if enough was being done to ensure the refugees who return will 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. "Having spoken to some of the refugees also, (their) 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," he added.

Dr Balakrishnan said 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.

"We welcome the fact that both sides are in direct, detailed discussions on the preparations for the repatriation," he said. "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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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 20, 2018, with the headline Singapore prepared to send more aid to Rohingya. Subscribe