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Australia must match aid to Rohingya camps with political action

Amnesty International Australia’s National Director, Claire Mallinson has just returned from visiting Rohingya refugee camps near Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh and is warning that urgent action is needed before the imminent monsoon season hits, to prevent catastrophic loss of life.

“What we just witnessed was a scene where 900,000 people – 80% of them women and children – are living in homes made of bamboo and plastic, built on top of mud, and perched very precariously on bare hills and the monsoon season is almost here,” said Claire Mallinson.

“Although the agencies on the ground are sand-bagging everywhere, it is estimated that 200,000 people are at risk of landslides, with 25,000 at very high risk of losing their makeshift homes, being injured or losing their lives.

“Urgent action from the international community is needed now. So far, less than a fifth of the United Nations’ requested US$950 million in relief funds has been committed. Australia, as one of the most generous donors, can take a leadership role to mitigate this crisis on our doorstep and encourage others to do more.”

The Australian Government’s ties to the Myanmar military could delegitimise any calls it may make on the international community to step up.

However, the Australian Government’s ties to the Myanmar military could delegitimise any calls it may make on the international community to step up, Claire Mallinson said.

“Without cutting military ties with Myanmar, Australia is undermining efforts to save hundreds of thousands of people – mostly women and children – from impending catastrophe.”

The forced exodus to Bangladesh of some 900,000 Rohingya people from northern Myanmar’s Rakhine State since last August followed a brutal ethnic cleansing campaign against them by the Myanmar military amounting to crimes against humanity. This included systematic gang rapes of women and girls, horrific mass killings of men, women and children, and the burning of whole villages to the ground.

Australia is out of step with many of its key allies – such as the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, France and the European Union – who have already cut ties with Myanmar’s military over the violence.

Myanmar has reportedly agreed to a ‘memorandum of understanding’ to allow a UN fact-finding mission into Rakhine State. However, a timeframe has not yet been agreed.

“Now that Myanmar is making noises about allowing the UN access to Rakhine State, it is timely for Australia to encourage it in that direction by cutting all military ties” – Claire Mallinson

“Now that Myanmar is making noises about allowing the UN access to Rakhine State, it is timely for Australia to encourage it in that direction by cutting all military ties until such access is indeed granted,” said Claire Mallinson.

Along with cutting military ties with Myanmar, Amnesty International is calling on the Australian Government to explore all avenues for accountability and justice for the crimes committed in Myanmar. In particular, to explore an immediate mechanism for evidence collection and preservation for future criminal prosecutions and to support a reference by the UN Security Council of the crimes to the International Criminal Court. Amnesty also calls on Myanmar to dismantle the systemic discrimination against the Rohingya in Rakhine State.

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