Bangladesh told the United Nations Security Council on Thursday that it cannot take any more refugees from Myanmar, some 18 months after more than 700,000 mainly Rohingya Muslims started pouring across the border fleeing a military crackdown.
Attacks on security posts by Rohingya insurgents in Myanmar’s Rakhine state triggered the crackdown that the United Nations, the United States, Britain and others describe as ethnic cleansing. Myanmar denies the accusations.
“I regret to inform the council that Bangladesh would no longer be in a position to accommodate more people from Myanmar,” Bangladesh Foreign Secretary Shahidul Haque said.
Haque accused Myanmar of “hollow promises and various obstructionist approaches” during negotiations on returns.
“Not a single Rohingya has volunteered to return to Rakhine due to the absence of conducive environment there,” Haque said.
Myanmar says it has been ready to accept returning refugees since January, but the United Nations says conditions are not yet right for their return. The Rohingya say they want guarantees over their safety and to be recognised as citizens before returning.
Western powers on the council on Thursday lamented the lack of action from Myanmar’s government.
“We’re very disappointed … that there hasn’t been more progress on getting the refugees back and that obviously includes creating the conditions where the refugees feel able to go back,” British U.N. Ambassador Karen Pierce told the council.
Several council members from western countries stressed that the return of refugees needed to be safe, voluntary, dignified and secure, and pushed for the Myanmar government to allow the United Nations widespread and unconditional access to Rakhine.
U.N. envoy to Myanmar Christine Schraner-Burgener told the Security Council that U.N. access was currently “insufficient.”
“The scale of what has been done to the Rohingya Muslims and the allegations of crimes against humanity really mark this out as one of the most terrible events of this century so far,” Pierce said.
The 15-member Security Council has been split over how to deal with the crisis, with western powers pitted against Russia and Myanmar ally China.
China’s Deputy U.N. Ambassador Wu Haitao said it was mainly an issue between Myanmar and neighbouring Bangladesh “and as such it is up to the two countries to work out a solution.”
Russia’s Deputy U.N. Ambassador Dmitry Polyanskiy agreed.
In December Britain circulated a draft resolution to council members that diplomats said aims to put a timeline on Myanmar allowing the return of refugees and addressing accountability, but China and Russia have boycotted talks on the draft.
Deputy U.S. Ambassador Jonathan Cohen said: “The international community cannot ignore the world’s largest refugee camp.”