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Australian Prime Minister must seek a solution to the Rohingya crisis at ASEAN summit

Save the Children is calling for the Australian government to use the ASEAN-Australia Special Summit in Sydney this weekend to push for a regional solution to the Rohingya refugee crisis – described by the UN as a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.
16 March 2018
"This is an important opportunity for Malcolm Turnbull and Julie Bishop to step up in condemning the violence in Myanmar and facilitating discussions on how to ensure the Rohingya can live in safety and dignity," Save the Children Australia director of policy and international programs Mat Tinkler said.

"It is important countries such as Australia are thinking about a regional response to this crisis."

The summit will be attended by Myanmar's State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi – one of the first visits Ms Suu Kyi has made outside Myanmar since the Rohingya crisis began.

This presents an opportunity for Australia to insist the Rohingya are not forced into a rushed return to Myanmar due to the repatriation deal between the governments of Bangladesh and Myanmar.

"Instead, they should only return on a voluntary basis, and then, only if conditions are met to ensure their safety and rights are protected," Mr Tinkler said.

"They must be assured of rights to citizenship, freedom of movement and non-discrimination in accessing essential services to live dignified lives."

Since August last year 655,000 people have fled Rhakine State in Myanmar and sought safety in neighbouring Bangladesh following reports of rape, murder and the burning of Rohingya villages. People are living in squalor – among them are heavily pregnant women, the elderly and children. One in four children under five suffers from acute malnutrition.

All UN reports point to grave human rights violations, and an interim report from the UN fact-finding mission in Myanmar will presented this month.

"Ms Suu Kyi should allow the UN Fact Finding Mission access to the country to investigate rights abuses, as well as independent rights monitors to ensure the rights of the Rohingya and other community members are respected," Mr Tinkler said.

During a recent UN Security Council session, the US said it was "appalled by the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya" and the UK said the "human rights violations, including murder, torture and sexual violence, are appalling".

In contrast, the Australian Government merely stated it "recognised" the "complex challenges" faced by Myanmar "as it seeks to consolidate democratic reforms and to achieve peace and reconciliation".

"We are calling for stronger action from Australian leaders on this crisis," Mr Tinkler said.

"Australia has been too cautious in not calling for Myanmar to be held to account for the cause of the crisis, favouring an 'engagement at all costs' approach to diplomacy.

"We have a responsibility to help chart a new course for those who have suffered unspeakable atrocities. One that puts the needs of the Rohingya refugees first and ensures they can live in safety, dignity and freedom."

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