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‘Rohingya issue worrisome’

May 07, 2014

The state minister for foreign affairs has expressed concern over Rohingyas being denied citizenship recognition in Myanmar. 

M Shahriar Alam raised the issue at a meeting with the visiting US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia (regional affairs), Fatema Sumar, on Wednesday.

Bangladesh has given shelter to thousands of refugees who fled Myanmar’s Rakhine province following years of recurring sectarian clashes.

The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, put the number in Bangladesh at over 200,000 with 30,000 documented refugees living in two government-run camps – Kutupalong and Nayapara – within two km of the Myanmar border.

Bangladesh government says more than 500,000 of them live outside the camps.

Myanmar’ government has refused to take them back, and reports say Rohingyas have been excluded from the updated voters’ list, putting their nationality into question.

The junior minister told the US official that Bangladesh was engaged with Myanmar despite the thorny refugee issue.

According to the foreign ministry, Alam expressed “concern” as the Rohingyas were not being registered as citizens of Myanmar.

US Ambassador in Dhaka Dan Mozena and foreign ministry’s Director General (Americas) Mahfuzur Rahman were present at the meeting.

They also discussed ready-made garment factory safety and workers’ rights.

The Deputy Assistant Secretary appreciated the improvements made in this sector.

Fatema Sumar acknowledged that there was a “remarkable difference” in this sector between pre- and -post Rana Plaza building collapse that killed more than 1,100 people, mostly garment workers on Apr 24 last year.

The foreign ministry said state minister Shahriar Alam also responded to the visiting official’s “interest” in regional connectivity with India and Myanmar.

He said Bangladesh had “multimodal connectivity” with India spanning “physical connectivity for transportation of goods to energy cooperation”.

He also described the recent interlinking of Bangladesh and India’s electricity grid as “a success story” in energy cooperation.

The proposed Bangladesh-China-India–Myanmar (BCIM) economic corridor, being currently discussed at the official level among these countries, was also mentioned.

The visiting official said there were some challenges in the relationship between Bangladesh and the US, but added “these should not impede the advancement of our relationship; rather we should explore other potentials and work on those”.

Alam also expected Bangladesh–US relations would see further firming up in future.

He said, despite some challenges, both the countries “needed to explore new opportunities”.

However, the foreign ministry media release did not specify what challenges had been discussed at the meeting.

The US is one of the biggest markets of Bangladeshi products, but only selected commodities that are not among Bangladesh’s main exports enjoyed duty-free access until last year.

Dhaka had been long seeking market access, but after the Rana Plaza building collapse the privilege was revoked for those selected products.

The US has found the Jan 5 national election “not credible”, as the opposition BNP boycotted the poll and demanded fresh elections “as soon as possible” after the results.