—Representative Eliot L. Engel, Chairman of
the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, and Senator Edward Markey today urged
the government of Bangladesh to restore telecommunications for the Rohingya
refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar. In a letter
to Foreign Minister Abdul Momen, the lawmakers underscored the importance of
access to communications as critical to humanitarian aid and health services
during the coronavirus pandemic. The lawmakers also urged the Bangladesh
government to halt further relocations to Bhasan Char, a flood prone island,
until the UN Refugee Agency judges the island to be safe and habitable.
“Telecommunications restrictions hinder humanitarian actors’
ability to communicate life-saving information amidst the COVID-19 pandemic,
and barricades impede refugees’ ability to access humanitarian services or to
evacuate in an emergency,” the lawmakers wrote, adding that “we remain troubled
by the relocation of refugees to Bhasan Char.”
The letter was also signed by Representatives Ami Bera (D-CA) and
Andy Levin (D-MI).
Full text of the letter can be found here
Dear Minister Momen:
We extend our appreciation to the government and people of
Bangladesh for hosting nearly a million Rohingya refugees for more than three
years. We recognize that both the root of this crisis and its solution lie in
Burma, and the Burmese government must do more to enable the safe, sustainable,
and dignified return of Rohingya refugees back to their homes in Burma.
We also appreciate your government’s willingness to engage with us
on issues related to the Rohingya and are pleased that your government restored
3G and 4G telecommunications networks in the camps at the end of August. This
was an important step in protecting people’s right to access information and
further supporting humanitarian actors’ ability to effectively address the
ongoing needs of refugees and host communities alike, especially in the midst
of a global pandemic.
As countries worldwide determine the best way to provide for their
citizens’ safety during the pandemic, we understand the need to ensure the
health and safety of those residing in Cox’s Bazar. But we are concerned by reports
that 3G and 4G access has once again been restricted in the camps and by
reports that your government has completed fencing around the Kutupalong camps.
Telecommunications restrictions hinder humanitarian actors’ ability to
communicate life-saving information amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, and
barricades impede refugees’ ability to access humanitarian services or to
evacuate in an emergency. We urge your government to restore telecommunications
access in the camps to post-August 2020 levels, and to ensure that any security
measures implemented are proportional to security concerns and do not infringe
on the rights of the Rohingya or host communities.
As Members of Congress have stressed before, we remain troubled by
the relocation of refugees to Bhasan Char before the UN Refugee Agency has
conducted a comprehensive assessment and determined the island is safe and
habitable. We welcome your government’s commitment that any relocation of
refugees would need to be fully informed and voluntary, and ask that any
relocated refugee have the option and ability to safely return to Cox’s Bazar.
We will continue to hold members of the Burmese military
accountable for the crimes they committed, and to support political efforts
that lead to a durable resolution of the conflict and enable the safe,
dignified, and sustainable return of the Rohingya refugees to Burma. We also
remain committed to working with and supporting your government and the people
ELIOT L. ENGEL
House Committee on Foreign Affairs
EDWARD J. MARKEY
Senate Subcommittee on East Asia, the Pacific, and International
AMI BERA, M.D.
House Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific, and Nonproliferation
Member of Congress