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Volume 649: debated on Wednesday 21 November 2018

We have provided £129 million towards alleviating the crisis in Bangladesh since August last year and helped to reach nearly 1 million people with life-saving support. We will continue to be a leader in the international response, supporting the Government of Bangladesh to meet the ongoing needs of the Rohingya refugees and host communities.

The first official day of repatriating thousands of Rohingya refugees to Myanmar ended in failure last week, after no one agreed to voluntarily return. In that context, is the Department constructing its aid programme to reflect the fact that the vast majority of Rohingya refugees will be in Bangladesh for the foreseeable future?

I am pleased to say that the Government of Bangladesh have respected the principle of voluntary return and have stated, quite rightly, that they will continue to do so. Our planning approach remains that refugees and host communities will require support in Bangladesh for some time, even when credible voluntary returns processes begin.

The plight of the Rohingya people is the worst regional crisis since the Bangladesh famine of 1974, which led to 1.5 million deaths. The UK’s response has been outstanding. Can the Secretary of State say something about the pressure we are putting on other countries to meet their commitments? What is her view of the supine conduct of Aung San Suu Kyi?

My hon. Friend is quite right to point out that in addition to our own funding, we continue to ask other international partners to lean in. Generous international support has ensured that the current international appeal, which continues to the end of this year, is now funded to 72%. However, this is likely to be a protracted crisis, and sustained funding will be needed. What every refugee wants is to return home, and clearly the Burmese Government have a key role in providing assurances to people who want to go back home.

Many of the babies conceived last summer as a result of rape have now been born, and conditions in the camps are still abysmal. What post-natal support is being given for the babies and mothers who have been left with nothing?

This is one of the things that the UK in particular has been able to do. We have provided the lion’s share of the pre-birth maternity services, which ranges from the midwives who were there providing support and caring for those infants, to healthcare, vaccinations and ensuring that they are prioritised and in better facilities. Most of those births were during peak cyclone season.

The chair of the UN fact-finding mission in Myanmar has told the Security Council that the situation today is “an ongoing genocide”. Meanwhile, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees says that the conditions in the country are

“not yet conducive for returns”.

Non-governmental organisations on the ground echo these grave concerns about the pending repatriations of refugees back to Myanmar. Will the Secretary of State tell us what the Government are doing to ensure that no refugee is forcibly returned to Myanmar?

On the point that the hon. Lady makes about accountability and justice, it is right that we must look at all options, including the International Criminal Court. Obviously, it is vital that we work with the Bangladeshi Government to ensure that more appropriate facilities are put in place for people and that the main camp is broken down. A huge amount of work has gone into ensuring that the refugees there know what their rights are, and although earlier it was described as a “failure”, actually the success of that failed repatriation was that nobody got on that bus, or felt obliged to or was coerced into getting on that bus.

We understand that the Government are concerned and we all share the concern deeply, so does the Secretary of State agree that the UNHCR is the best-placed agency to co-ordinate support to refugees on the ground? If so, is the Secretary of State concerned that the agency has reportedly not been consulted or informed about the decision to start repatriations, and what is the Department doing to address this?

This is incredibly important. We have long made the case—not just in Bangladesh, but in Burma—for the UN agencies to be given access and, obviously, the information that they need to co-ordinate things properly. We will continue to make the case for that. We all need to work together to make sure that these refugees are taken care of, and that eventually they will be able to go back home.