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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

U.S. Assistance to the Rakhine State Crisis in Burma and Bangladesh

Richard Albright, Deputy Assistant Secretary For The Bureau Of Population, Refugees, And Migration
New York, New York, United States
September 25, 2018





MODERATOR: Well, thank you all for coming through the rain. I think we’ll – you’ll find it useful to your reporting exercises later. It’s my pleasure to introduce our Deputy Assistant Secretary in our Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration Richard Albright. He has been in his position since July 2018 but already very busy and active throughout the region, where he oversees humanitarian assistance in both Africa, Near East, and in Asia. So no small job for our deputy assistant secretary.

So I’m going to ask him to give a few opening remarks, and then we can take questions. Thank you.

MR ALBRIGHT: Excellent. Thanks very much. Thank you for coming here today on this bleak, rainy day. So – but we all have important, really important, work to do here. And I just wanted to highlight some of the support that we’re providing for the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh as well as elsewhere in the region and some of the displaced population and the conflict-affected population inside of Burma.

So I think you’ve seen Ambassador Haley’s press statements that – and the announcement that she made yesterday on the 24th. We announced – the United States announced just over $185 million in new humanitarian assistance for those affected by the Rakhine State crisis in Burma and in Bangladesh. In Burma, the funding supports more than 300,000 people in Rakhine State, including internally displaced people. And in Bangladesh, 156 million of these funds will reach approximately one million Rohingya who are displaced refugees inside of Bangladesh, and it will support also Bangladeshi communities that are hosting these refugees.

The United States is very proud to be the leading donor responding to the Rakhine State crisis, and our assistance provides lifesaving help to crisis-affected communities on both sides of the border in both countries as well as the refugees and the host communities in Bangladesh. And it provides, more specifically, assistance in the areas of protection, emergency shelter, food, water, sanitation, health care, and psychosocial support for people who are affected by the crisis.

This assistance, this new assistance – the $185 million announced yesterday – brings our total assistance that we’ve provided for this particular response to $389 million since the outbreak of violence in August 2017, when the Burmese security forces began committing widespread atrocities against the Rohingya villages across the northern Rakhine.

We continue to support Bangladesh in its response, and we’re calling on other donors to do the same.

This is not – this doesn’t complete the exercise. There’s going to be considerably more assistance that’s required of the international community. The United States will continue to do its part, but we will ask others to support as well.

So I think with that, I would just want to commend really the support from and the generosity of the Government of Bangladesh and the Bangladeshi people in hosting over a million refugees who have arrived in – very suddenly since last year. And we continue to work closely and appreciate their strong cooperation in working to address the needs of this population.

I’m happy to take your questions.

QUESTION: Yes. I am reading this one, but I have a question. No doubt America is doing a lot for those countries who are deprived, the people who are the refugees. But I don’t know why people have this thinking, whatever is happening on the name of terrorism, America is doing. If they will not make a situation worst so people will not this type of – people not face this type of situation. If you think some bad elements are there like Syria, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, you can do a surgical operation. When you do operation of worst level, so people, they get homeless and they want to move somewhere else.

MR ALBRIGHT: Well, I mean, that’s an interesting question. I mean, I think what I would say to you with regard to this particular crisis in Burma and Bangladesh is that this is a crisis that was generated by the Government of Burma and its mistreatment of its population declaring them not citizens of the country, not giving them basic civil and human rights, and a significant amount of oppression and atrocities committed by the Burmese armed forces..

We – the UN has – factfinding mission has put out a report on those atrocities. The United States has also published a report also yesterday. That’s not the subject of my discussion here today, but it’s online that we published this report yesterday documenting some of the atrocities committed by the government against this population.

So our focus here is working with the Government of Burma to improve the conditions for the Rohingya population as well as all of its minority populations to enable those people to return in safety to their homes. I mean, that’s what most displaced people and most refugees want is to go home. And so we’re trying to keep the focus on the government to create those conditions, and we’re also very concerned about accountability for those people who committed these crimes against the population.

QUESTION: I have a couple of questions to begin with. First of all, how is money to be disbursed? Who handles this money? UN, other agencies, U.S. directly? How does money – both in Bangladesh and in Myanmar.

MR ALBRIGHT: So these funds – very good question. These funds are – we are distributing and some we’ve already distributed to our key humanitarian partners. We’re talking about the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the International Organization for Migration, UNICEF. These are the key partners that we work with on crisis response and humanitarian assistance. And I should say the World Food Program. So that’s the other kind of the fourth major – the fourth major partner. And through the International Organization for Migration we’re also supporting a number of nongovernmental organizations that provide assistance to the refugees as well as to populations inside of Burma.

QUESTION: Will this amount be on top of the amount already pledged or would be placed for the global UN appeal for Burma?

MR ALBRIGHT: So these funds will be counted as part of the UN appeals, the humanitarian response plan. So they will – as those funds are disbursed, they will start showing up in the UN’s documentation for the funding.

QUESTION: Thank you so much for the generosity, but one question: What about granting refugee status to some of these Rohingyas?

MR ALBRIGHT: Well, I think one thing that – what is happening right now is that the Government of Burma – Bangladesh, excuse me, and UNHCR are in – doing a verification exercise in which they are providing identity documents to the Rohingya who are in Bangladesh. This is a – this will take some time. It’s a large population. And – but they’re very carefully verifying the people and giving them identity documents. And so that’s – and that gives them a basic form of protection inside of Bangladesh that’s recognized by the Bangladeshi authorities.

QUESTION: Does it mean that you will consider granting them?

MR ALBRIGHT: Well, their status is considered by – is determined by the Bangladeshi Government. It’s not our status determination. It’s --

QUESTION: What I’m trying to say is that many of them are fleeing already.


QUESTION: Different directions. Pakistan, for example. India, Saudi Arabia. Why not the U.S. grant some of them even as a gesture of goodwill?

MR ALBRIGHT: Are you referring to – you’re referring to resettlement of people into the United States?


MR ALBRIGHT: All right. That’s – I mean , we have a – the U.S. has a longstanding refugee resettlement program. We’ve resettled more refugees in our country than any other. Generally, refugee resettlement starts to happen for a population after several years. It’s not generally the focus. Resettlement in a third country is not generally the focus in a newly displaced population. And this population has – most of them – I mean, I recognize some of the Rohingya have been in Bangladesh for several years, but the big flow of people came just under a year ago. So for the time being, the focus is on emergency response and also working to try to create the conditions for them to return home. Most of the refugee resettlement that occurs around the world occurs in populations that have been displaced for longer periods of time.

QUESTION: So no plan? In other words --

MR ALBRIGHT: So there’s not – not immediately. It’s also based on – UNHCR makes referrals of individual cases who particularly – usually vulnerable cases, particularly who are in need of resettlement because that’s the only alternative. So that’s usually the third durable solution that UNHCR seeks out.

QUESTION: One last question from this (inaudible) time. On sanctions, would you be able to talk a little bit about sanctions?

MR ALBRIGHT: The only thing I could say for you on that is, I mean, we have imposed some sanctions on some --

QUESTION: Six individuals, yes.

MR ALBRIGHT: -- six individuals. So I – there could be other measures coming, but I don’t have anything for you on that today.

QUESTION: Sir, very honestly, these sanctions are aimed at people to freeze their assets in the U.S. and they are not in the U.S. So are these symbolic? Do they have – do they carry any meaning?

MR ALBRIGHT: I think we have to look at – they – those are the actions that we’ve taken so far. That doesn’t mean that we’re finished. And we are – we publish this – the documentation report yesterday, and I think that that will – there’ll be – there’s great interest in developing further information on the atrocities that occurred inside of Burma and looking at the whole issue of accountability. And that’s not just something that the U.S. is looking at. As you know, there’s the fact-finding mission at the UN. Other countries and organizations are looking at that.


QUESTION: Yesterday the Malaysian Government came out and spoke about helping refugees – IDPs, I mean, resettle also partly in Malaysia. Since Myanmar – sorry, I’m using the current moniker.

MR ALBRIGHT: Good for you.

QUESTION: Since Myanmar is part of the ASEAN Community, would the U.S. like ASEAN to do anything?

MR ALBRIGHT: Well, we certainly – I mean, there are Rohingya who have moved and fled to other ASEAN countries – a significant number, over 100,000 I think. And we certainly appreciate those countries’ efforts to host these people who have fled and give them shelter and provide services, access to services for them. And that’s a very good thing and it’s very commendable.

QUESTION: One question. It’s a bit political in nature. To what extent are you willing to exercise some kind of pressure on Aung San Suu Kyi to speak out? She’s been conspicuously very quiet.

MR ALBRIGHT: Look, I can’t comment on the internal dynamics within the Burmese Government, in the – or the Myanmar Government. But I mean, the – we have been very consistent in our messaging to everyone there, whether it’s officials in the military, in the civilian government, up and down the line, about our concerns for what happened, our concerns about accountability, our concerns about improving the conditions for this population so that people can return in safety and dignity and security.

QUESTION: But there’s a certain limit to which the U.S. is willing to go, considering that it might upset the balance of power within Myanmar. Although she’s de facto the leader of Myanmar, her hands are tied.

MR ALBRIGHT: I mean, I – all I can say to you is that we are very clear about what our concerns are and what our expectation are. And this is a matter that we continue to work with the government to improve these conditions and address these problems.

QUESTION: May I take one more sure?


QUESTION: One concern that we have – we in Bangladesh have – is the rising extremism in the Rohingya camp, the rebels in the camps who are believed to extremists. And one complaint that Myanmar had about this whole thing is about the role of ARSA. Where do you stand on that? I mean, is there a role that U.S. can play to stem this rising tide?

MR ALBRIGHT: I mean, we’re – of course we’re very concerned about extremism. We talk to the – certainly to the Bangladeshi authorities. I haven’t seen significant reports of extremist activity emerging from the camps. I would also note that the population is heavily – is predominantly women and children, and – but I think the security measures are good. But it’s an important – over the longer term, it’s important to provide people with not just immediate -- taking care of their immediate needs, but providing education and livelihoods and the thing – the kinds of support and opportunities that give people a chance and hope for their future. And so that’s a part of our programming and something we’ll be – we’re continuously talking to the government about.

QUESTION: It seems that many of them are not going back, many of them don’t want to go back. What happens to them if they stay back in Bangladesh for the next 10, 20, 40 years?

MR ALBRIGHT: I think if you – some – a figure that I hear often from UNHCR, from the World Bank, is that the average stay of refugees in a country outside of their own is about 10 years, so – because people are fleeing complex crises and emergencies. And these situations take time to resolve. They don’t resolve overnight, and so that’s why we need to look beyond the immediate lifesaving assistance for these people and ensure that they have healthcare and education and – so that they can become good citizens and they can contribute to the development of – hopefully of their own country and – but so that they can also provide a positive impact on the countries that are hosting them if they have to stay there for longer periods.

QUESTION: Am I to surmise that, based on your comment, that you’re expecting these people to stay in Bangladesh the next ten years, and you’d be committing yourselves to providing help to (inaudible)?

MR ALBRIGHT: Well, I can’t tell you exactly how long they will stay in Bangladesh, but I mean, I can --

QUESTION: No, but given the average that you just mentioned --

MR ALBRIGHT: I can say that the U.S. and others in the international community will continue to provide assistance to refugees and continue at the same time to look for durable solutions for these populations, just as we have in many other refugee situations around the world.

QUESTION: Most of them unresolved, by the way.

MR ALBRIGHT: Many of them are unresolved, but some are resolved.

QUESTION: I can’t think of one.

MR ALBRIGHT: Well, we try to remain hopeful. Thank you. Thank you very much.

MODERATOR: Any last question? Okay, with that, thank you so much DAS Albright --


MODERATOR: -- for speaking with our group today. We will try to do the transcript – it will depend a little bit on what the Secretary’s doing today – and then send it out to you as soon as we have it available.


MR ALBRIGHT: Thank you, you’re most welcome.

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