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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Rohingya Refugees in Bangladesh

Eric P. Schwartz
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration
Dhaka, Bangladesh
June 9, 2011


Thanks for joining me today. I’m Eric Schwartz, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees and Migration, and I’m accompanied by Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Kelly Clements and other members of our team.

I have been in Bangladesh over these past three days to explore issues surrounding Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh and the region. I travelled on Tuesday to Cox's Bazar, and visited the Kutupalong camp and surrounding areas hosting Rohingya refugees. While in Cox's Bazar, I met with camp officials and officials in the adjoining areas, members of the local community, and representatives of international and non-governmental organizations. I also had the opportunity to speak with a number of refugees and to learn of the significant challenges they confront. In Dhaka, I met with the Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Food and Disaster Management, as well as officials from the Ministry of Home Affairs, Defense and other offices. I am looking forward to meeting with the Prime Minister this evening.

I first want to express the appreciation of the Government of the United States to the Government and the people of Bangladesh for hosting hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees who have fled persecution in southwestern Burma, where the regime systematically denies the human rights and human freedom of the Rohingya. We are grateful that the Government and people of Bangladesh have recognized their responsibility to provide refuge for these individuals.

Make no mistake: the solution to this refugee challenge lies in Burma. Voluntary return of Rohingya in large numbers will only be possible when the basic rights of these people are safeguarded, and – sadly – that is not today the case. Until such change in Burma, the United States will continue to do what we can to assist government and people of Bangladesh to assist Rohingya.

It is critical to emphasize that these individuals are victims, guilty of nothing other than a desire to flee repression and create a better life for themselves and their families. The United States, which is proud to be the world’s largest provider of humanitarian assistance, has supported the refugee program in Bangladesh since 1991. In 2010, the United States provided over $23 million to regional appeals of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Committee of Red Cross, as well as $1.28 million to NGOs assisting Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. This is of course in addition to the nearly $200 million in development aid provided by the United States to the people of Bangladesh.

During my meetings in Cox’s Bazar and in Dhaka, I discussed with officials how best to meet the requirements of refugees in the camps and surrounding areas, including the requirements of the most vulnerable within this population; I also discussed how best to address the needs and concerns of Bangladesh communities that serve as hosts to the refugees.

Government officials have told me they are reviewing these and related issues, including the question of documentation of Rohingya who are outside the camps. The United States is eager to continue and to augment our support to the humanitarian efforts of the government, and we look forward to consulting closely with Bangladeshi official in the weeks and months to come.

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