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Volume 554: debated on Tuesday 4 December 2012

1. What representations he has made to the Burmese Government on resolving the situation in Rakhine state. (131100)

10. What steps he is taking with the Burmese and Bangladeshi Governments to assist the Rohingya Muslim community. (131109)

We continue to raise our concerns about the recent violence in Rakhine state, as well as the conflict in Kachin and Shan states, with Burmese Ministers and Aung San Suu Kyi. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary raised the plight of the Rohingya community in recent discussions with the Burmese President, stressing the need to resolve their citizenship status. Officials continue to emphasise the importance of our humanitarian aid programmes in Bangladesh and Rakhine with the Bangladeshi and Burmese Governments.

I thank the Minister for that response. Does it not surprise him that Aung San Suu Kyi, the most respected and peaceable person in Burma, has been in effect excluded from steps to resolve the situation in Rakhine? Will he urge the Burmese Government to invite Aung San Suu Kyi to visit Rakhine state as soon as possible to help to calm the situation?

We very much welcome the statement that Aung San Suu Kyi made on 9 November, as chairman of the parliamentary committee on the rule of law, on the situation in Rakhine state. The issue was raised with her by my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary when she was here in June, and our ambassador has raised it with her since. I will travel to that part of the world shortly and I will certainly discuss the issue with her, because I believe she has a role in resolving it and, indeed, all the problems facing Burma today.

We hear what the Minister says, but the situation is of great concern to all of us who care about minorities. I have been a critic in this House of the way in which Christians have been treated by Muslims in Pakistan—that is on the record—but this is a question of Muslims being persecuted in Burma. Can the United Nations and this country’s leadership and Government not do something about it?

Of course we remain extremely concerned about the situation in Burma, but we believe that it is moving in the right direction. We welcome President Obama’s recent visit there and I shall be taking a trade delegation on my visit. We believe that engaging with the Government commercially as well as politically is the right way to proceed. We are concerned about the ethnic violence and issues of religion, and we remain concerned—I shall raise these points forcefully when I am there—about the issue of the remaining political prisoners.

The Minister has rightly focused on issues regarding the Rohingya community in Burma, but equally there are hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslim refugees in Bangladesh and 20,000 or 30,000 of them in refugee camps. What steps can the Minister take to persuade the Bangladesh Government to begin the registration of undocumented Rohingya refugees and to provide access for non-governmental organisations to the refugee camps?

My hon. Friend makes a good point. The issue was raised by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary during a meeting with the Bangladeshi Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina, on 28 July. The former Secretary of State for International Development, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell), raised it with Prime Minister Hasina on 12 August. My noble friend Baroness Warsi raised it with the Bangladesh Foreign Minister, Dipu Moni, in October 2012 and the British high commissioner has also raised it in Bangladesh. It is important that we get aid to that part of Rakhine and that the Bangladeshis make it possible for that aid to reach the people.

The development of democracy in Burma will be successful only if it is pluralistic—a position that has long been held by the British Government. Is the Minister satisfied with the position that is being taken within the European Union, and what discussions has he had with his counterparts about ensuring that the common position does not move too quickly towards removing all sanctions and developing trade with Burma until all ethnic groupings are properly involved in its democracy?

As I have said, we have taken the view that the best way to encourage Burma on the path that we believe the President has set is to engage with them. We have taken a number of trade delegations there and I shall be taking one myself shortly. I have written to the chairman of the all-party group on Burma, the noble Baroness Kinnock, and, when I return from that part of the world—this will be in the new year—I am prepared happily to talk through what I will have learnt on the ground. I think I will be one of the few Ministers to have been to that area, so I will be able to give the hon. Lady a first-hand account of what I think is going on there.

While the focus has been on the Rohingya people and the atrocities that they have faced, including the destruction of a mosque recently, everybody in the area is suffering as a result of these problems. Will the Minister tell us how the humanitarian aid that we are providing will encourage a resolution to the difficulties?

I am pleased to say that we have an extremely good track record in that respect. We are one of the largest aid donors to Burma and have allocated £187 million to it over four years, which includes support for the process of ethnic reconciliation. We announced another £27 million in November for the humanitarian support of refugees and internally displaced people and for peace-building activities, drawing on our experiences in Northern Ireland. We have provided a further £2 million to Kachin, where there are 27,500 internally displaced people. We have a record that is second to none in providing the aid that is sorely needed in that part of the world.

I know from my visit to Burma in July that the country will welcome the trade delegation that the Minister is leading. However, I am concerned that, from feedback I have had and questions I have asked about other trade delegations that have been led by the Foreign Office in recent months, it seems that very little has been said about human rights on those trips. Will the Minister assure me that the plight of the Rohingya, the fate of political prisoners and other human rights issues in Burma will be very much on his agenda when he goes to Burma?

I can certainly give the hon. Lady that assurance. Trade is one part of what we are doing, as I have attempted to outline this morning. We believe in trade because, by engaging in it, we can form relationships and show the people of Burma what future they can have. However, that we are trying to increase our bilateral trade does not mean for a moment that we will ignore our drive for increased human rights and the recognition of different ethnic groups in Burma. I shall make those points to all the politicians I meet there. Indeed, I have made those points to the Burmese politicians I have already met.