Statement by Her Excellency Dr. DipuMoni, MP, Foreign Minister, Government of the People's Republic of Bangladeshat the International Ministerial Conference of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation on Refugees in the Muslim World
Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, 12 May 2012
Mr. Secretary General His Excellency Professor EkmeleddinIhsanoglu,
UN High Commissionerfor Refugees Mr. AntónioGuterres,
Ministers of OIC member and Observers States,
Ladies and Gentlemen.
May I begin by thanking the Government and the people of Turkmenistan for extending a most generous hospitality to me and my delegation since our arrival in this beautiful city of Ashkabad.My felicitations to you on your unanimous election to the Chair of this Conference. Our commendations to the Secretary General and the UNHCR for convening an OIC Ministerial dedicated exclusively to the refugee situation in the Muslim world.
As we deliberate here today, the world grapples with one of the gravest moral and humanitarian challenges of sheltering 10.5 million refugees, the lion’s share of whom are Muslims. The 4.8 million Palestinian refugees, brutally persecuted and uprooted from their homes more than half a century ago, continue to languish in their makeshift camps in the Middle East. More than half of the world’s refugees are Asian Muslims and the balance 20% in Africa continue to remain homeless in protracted refugee situations. These unfortunate brothers and sisters have been victims of conflict or torture, political persecution, racial, religious discrimination, deprivation, and xenophobia.
There are thus two-fold challenges. First, return of refugees in dignity, and second, burden sharing with host governments that provide shelter and protection of refugees. We have also witnessed tendencies in many states to building fortresses posing serious challenge to the fundamental principle of non-refoulement and the international refugee regime. The protection needs of refugees are subverted both by the persecution in the country of origin and insurmountable border controls that deny access to protection of potential refugees, particularly in developed countries of the West, despite being party to the 1951 Refugee Convention and the 1967 Protocol. No wonder that refugee hosts are generally from the developing world. The third strand in the complexity of the refugee situation is that international burden sharing for refugee caseloads, especially in countries like Bangladesh, are faced with ominous donor fatigues.
We need therefore to look at all these strands:
- Muslim refugee communities and their protection in their home country,
- Access to protection on a non-discriminatory basis for Muslim refugees to be,
- Burden sharing with Muslim host governments for supporting refugee caseloads,
- Contributing towards durable solutions for Muslim refugee communities and refugees in Muslim countries,
- Working with others to look at root causes behind each caseload of refugee movement.
And therefore we need to pose the questions:
Does the international community care enough for the Muslim refugees’ just and rightful struggle to return to their non-Muslim countries of origin with dignity and human rights? Does the international community sympathize enough about sharing the burden of host countries that struggle socio-economically and culturally to host large numbers of Muslim refugees? Is the international community addressing the root causes of large-scale movement of Muslim refugees and engaging with the countries of origin for durable solutions? How fair is the international protection architecture that imposes disproportionately heavy burden and accountability on host countries, while their sovereign contribution to hosting refugees remain unaccounted for in the ‘official’ discourse on protection?
Bangladesh welcomes the OIC’s most timely initiative to address these fundamental but burning questions that profoundly affect the plight of millions of Muslim refugees and in some instances, of their OIC host countries. My tributes to all those OIC member countries which, regardless of their national capabilities, regardless of the fact that most of them are not party to the 1951 Convention or its 1967 Protocol, continue to demonstrate the most abiding commitment to refugee law by providing shelter and protection to maximum numbers of world’s refugees Sanctuary is ennobled in our faith, and I quote from Sura al-Anfal:
"Those who believed and emigrated, and strove in the cause of Allah, as well as those who hosted them and gave them refuge, and supported them, these are the true believers. They have deserved forgiveness and a generous recompense."
It is often an unacknowledged fact that the Holy Qur'an, along with the Sunnah and Hadith of the Prophet of Islam, inspires much of contemporary refugee law. The Islamic Shari’a addressed the issue of asylum in detail, including the issue of guaranteed safety, dignity and care for the 'asylum-seekers' (musta'men). What is known as non-refoulement as the cornerstone of international refugee law had also been consolidated by virtue of the Shari'a and long been practiced by Muslim societies in responding to asylum and non-refoulement appeals including that for the migration of Muslims to Abyssinia and the flight of the Prophet Muhammed (PBUH) to Medina to avoid persecution and oppression.
As a nation which withstood the pain of facing one of the gravest humanitarian and refugee situations during its birth, Bangladesh has been both a ‘protection seeking’ and a 'protection giving' country. Ten million Bangladeshis who were forced to flee their homes during our War of Liberation in 1971 sought refuge in bordering India and also returned home with dignity following the War. It is in the same spirit, that Bangladesh, an OIC member and a country Constitutionally committed to supporting oppressed peoples around the world, did not shy away from providing shelter, safety and welfare to 250,877 Myanmar refugees who fled their homes in 1991 from a non-OIC country of origin, Myanmar. According to UNHCR, Myanmar is one of the 7 countries along with Afghanistan, Somalia, Iraq, South Sudan, Sierra Leone and Palestine from which the largest numbers of Muslim refugees have fled conflict or persecution. Earlier Bangladesh also hosted Palestinian and Iranian refugees during the 1970s and 1980s and a few Somali refugees during the 1990s.
Even though not a State party to the 1951 Refugee Convention, Bangladesh is a strong believer in the principle of non-refoulment, and has never pursued forced repatriation of a single refugee despite a myriad of socio-economic limitations and dense population pressures. Working closely with the UNHCR we are providing the Muslim Myanmar refugees every possible humanitarian and socio-economic assistance in coordination with other relevant UN agencies and a host of national and international NGOS. With UNHCR we arranged successful voluntary repatriation of 2,36,599 Myanmar refugees between 1991-2005 through diplomatic negotiations. Unfortunately, no further progress in repatriation has taken place of the balance 29000 odd refugees since 2005, primarily due to a lack of response from the Myanmar government and in the absence of a congenial political and socio-economic condition in the Northern Rakhine State for its minority Muslim population.
The present government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has taken every effort to reengage diplomatically with Myanmar to resume repatriation of the remaining refugees including during her recent visit to Myanmar last December. While these persistent efforts have contributed to some progress in identifying a new but short list of acceptable refugees for repatriation to Myanmar, the need for congenial civil-political and socio-economic conditions in Northern Rakhine state remains a sine qua non for voluntary return of the Myanmar refugees. In this regard, Bangladesh believes that the international community can take the opportunity created by the recent democratic reforms in Myanmar and impress upon the Myanmar government to create these congenial conditions for its Muslim minority nationals to return in dignity and freedom. The complex and adverse socio-cultural impact of this protracted refugee situation on our local population remains profound while large numbers of illegal migrants continue to cross borders for economic livelihood in Bangladesh centering the refugee situation.
We welcome the three thematic focus of this meeting, first, the responsibility of UNHCR in protection, second, international burden and responsibility sharing, and the third non-refoulement. And yet Bangladesh strongly believes that there is a missing fourth theme to this discourse-incorporating the voice of the host countries specially in protracted refugee situations and a new architecture of burden sharing for addressing root causes. Given Bangladesh's challenging experience with protracted refugee situation, Bangladesh calls upon the OIC and the UNHCR to initiate a new dialogue with all concerned on the following:
a. International dialogue and engagement with non-OIC countries where only the Muslim minorities are driven by xenophobic policies on religious grounds into seeking refuge across their national borders.
b. Addressing the root causes of protracted refugee situations and encouraging socio-economic investment in Muslim minority areas in non-OIC countries by the UN and donor agencies and national-international NGOs.
c. Correction of selective criteria being used on Muslim refugees in case of their third country resettlement, which is always faster and easier for non-Muslim refugees.
d. Most importantly the principle of international burden sharing needs to be strengthened, especially in protracted refugee situations considering the shrinking global space for asylum and a growing trend of asylum fatigue.
e. The existing international protection architecture for refugees that imposes disproportionately heavy burden on host countries needs to be altered, where many are developing states, including LDCs like Bangladesh.
f. Host countries should not be sidelined any longer in decision-making and gap analysis relating to refugee protection, and their financial and associated economic contributions should be accounted for in the 'official' discourse on protection.
In concluding, we call for greater transparency and dialogue with host countries in the traditional donor support coordination for refugees and alignment with the priorities on the ground. The UNHCR needs to take the lead role in this. This we believe would ensure best utilization of the limited resources available from all stakeholders. The OIC can be a political partner in that dialogue.
I thank you.