Rohingya refugees walk down a footpath during a heavy monsoon downpour in Kutupalong refugee camp in Cox's Bazar, southern Bangladesh. Photo: UNHCR
Rohingya refugees walk down a footpath during a heavy monsoon downpour in Kutupalong refugee camp in Cox's Bazar, southern Bangladesh. Photo: UNHCR

Myanmar’s State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi appeared together with Japan’s Foreign Minister Taro Kono in the capital Naypyitaw on Tuesday, the state-run newspaper Global New Light of Myanmar has reported.

It was a rare occasion for Suu Kyi, who has not held press conferences or given interviews for several years. She had previously called on Japan to help develop Rakhine State, one of the most neglected and underdeveloped regions in the country.

Kono said his government praised the government of Myanmar “for the formation of an independent panel to investigate alleged human rights abuses and for signing agreements with UN agencies to work in Rakhine State.”

Kono said that peace, stability and development were important for “establishing democracy in Myanmar.” He also urged the Myanmar government to carry out “the resettlement of the displaced people.”

More than 700,000 mostly Muslim Rohingya refugees are languishing in camps near Cox’s Bazar in southeast Bangladesh, as attempts by the international community to persuade the Myanmar government to let them return have not had much impact.

Suu Kyi recounted what she called “terrorist attacks” which took place “before the government’s central committee for the rule of law and development in Rakhine State, formed in May 2016, could start its work.”

She said “a government has to listen to different views… but personnel outside a country have options to hold a view as they like.”

In other words, Myanmar authorities are unlikely to give in to any pressure regarding the repatriation of the Rohingya refugees that the international community wants to see.

Japan, however, has been muted in its criticism of the violence that was unleashed by Myanmar’s security forces on Muslim communities in 2016 and, especially, 2017.

Tokyo is wary of the role that China could play as a mediator between Myanmar and Bangladesh, which could lead to increased Chinese influence in the region, hence the diplomatic language – and the eagerness to get involved in development schemes in Rakhine State before the Chinese make similar offers.

That is a concern shared by the Myanmar government, which does not want a return to the heavy dependence on China which prevailed before the country opened up to the West in 2011.

200,000 refugees at risk of landslides, flooding

Meanwhile, the United Nations’ refugee agency, UNHCR, and aid groups in Bangladesh estimate that at least 200,000 of the 720,000 refugees in camps near Cox’s Bazar are at risk of landslides and floods during the monsoon season and need to be moved to safer areas.

That includes more than 41,000 individuals identified as being at high risk of landslides and in urgent need of relocation. To date, over half of these high-risk refugees have been relocated to safer areas.

But more land is urgently needed, UNHCR said in a statement today. Heavy rain from 23-25 July triggered landslides and flooding throughout the Cox’s Bazar district, significantly damaging shelters and infrastructure, as well as blocking access and restricting the distribution of aid and movement of personnel.

A Site Maintenance Engineering Project – organized by UNHCR, the World Food Programme and International Organization for Migration – has overseen repair work on damaged roads, culverts, bridges and drainage channels in the Kutupalong camp, whose main arterial road has been cut off, limiting access to basic supplies.

UNHCR also distributed tens of thousands of post-disaster kits to families so they can reinforce their shelters. The kits contain items such as sleeping mats, plastic tarpaulins, buckets, rope and wire, and water purification tablets. Protection staff and partners are working closely with volunteers to identify refugees that desperately need help, and to move people, if necessary, to safer areas.