Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina of Bangladesh said on Tuesday that she hopes her country can finally resolve the decades-old issue of Rohingya refugees residing in her country now that Burma is under a new government.
“We look forward to working with the new Myanmar [Burmese] leadership to find a lasting solution to this issue … I’m already in touch with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi,” she was quoted by the Bangladeshi news agency UNB as saying.
Hasina made the remarks at the Leaders’ Summit on Refugees, organised by US President Barack Obama at the United Nations headquarters in New York on Tuesday.
Bangladesh is host to an estimated 32,000 Rohingya refugees living in UN-administered camps located in the southeastern part of of the country, near the border with Burma’s Arakan State. However, hundreds of thousands more are also believed to be living in squalid makeshift camps.
Earlier this year, Bangladesh carried out a controversial census that attempted to keep track of the number of Rohingya living within its borders, many since the early nineties. The result of the census is due to be released before the end of the year.
According to Hasina, her government plans to issue “information cards” to the refugees — who she referred to as “Myanmar nationals” — based on the findings of the head count. “This will help them access justice, health, education and other services,” she said.
In Burma, the Rohingya are widely regarded as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, despite having resided in the country for generations. A series of communal clashes between ethnic Arakanese Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims since 2012 have forced many more Rohingya to flee to neighbouring Bangladesh.
Earlier this month, an Arakan State Advisory Commission led by former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan began work trying to resolve the issue, which has raised doubts about the new National League for Democracy government’s commitment to human rights.
At a press conference at the end of his first visit to Arakan State, Annan stressed the need to acknowledge the international dimension of the conflict between the two communities.
“We are dealing with an issue which, whether we like it or not, has some international elements when you have movements of people,” said Annan. “You have in the region people crossing borders either into Myanmar or from Myanmar into Bangladesh,” he said.
Speaking on Tuesday, Hasina said that “As part of our commitment to leave no one behind, we must promote orderly, safe, regular and responsible mobility of people.”
She also said that “Despite their different needs, refugees, migrants and other displaced people face some common challenges. We need to treat them with compassion, solidarity and fairness.”
Last year, however, she accused Bangladeshi migrants fleeing on boats in search of better lives of “tainting the image of the country”, calling them “mentally sick” for risking their safety to find work.