Britain has been urged to publicly press the Burmese government to “immediately stop all abuses”, as MPs voiced fresh concerns over the Rohingya crisis.
Labour’s Rushanara Ali (Bethnal Green and Bow) expressed frustration at the UK Government’s diplomatic response and warned the “crisis happened on our watch” in Burma, also known as Myanmar.
The United Nations has reported more than 700,000 Rohingya people have fled the country to Bangladesh due to “widespread and systematic ethnic violence” since August 2017.
The Burmese military has faced allegations of committing abuse, rape and murder of the predominantly Muslim Rohingya while also destroying their homes and villages.
Ms Ali, opening the backbench business debate, told the Commons: “When asked in a parliamentary debate last year, the minister of state said that if the United Nations determined genocide then of course the United Kingdom Government will be the first to be supportive of taking these matters to the international criminal court.
“Twelve months later and there has still been very little progress.
“The Prime Minister called explicitly last November for more action and said the humanitarian crisis is something the Burmese authorities and especially the military must take full responsibility for.
“She went on to pledge that Britain would continue to play a leading role in bringing the international community together to do everything possible to stop this appalling inhumane destruction of the Rohingya people.
“The sad reality is that our Government while strong in providing humanitarian assistance has not come close to putting real pressure on the Burmese government and its military leaders.
“It should not have taken more deaths and displacement to make the international community take notice.
“This crisis happened on our watch.
“The UK Government should publicly press the Burmese government to immediately stop all abuses, remove restrictions on freedom of movement, improve conditions for all Rohingya in Rakhine state, and grant unfettered access to Rakhine state to humanitarian agencies and human rights monitors.”
Ms Ali went further about what the UK Government should do, including that they insist no repatriation of Rohingya refugees takes place until it is safe to do so.
Labour’s Jack Dromey (Birmingham Erdington) said Burma was a beautiful country of “immense” potential when he visited three years ago, but warned: “(It) is now scarred and shamed by the treatment of the Rohingya.”
He added: “An unambiguous message needs to be sent today that the government of Myanmar will forever be a pariah state until they end the shameful war crimes against the noble people the Rohingyas.”
Replying for the Government, Foreign Office minister Mark Field said progress had been made and, although it was slow, the UK had secured support for a “collect and preserve” mechanism to keep evidence for future criminal trials, he said, and would continue to try and get China to cooperate with international efforts.
Mr Field said China had “tried to prevent the fact-finding mission even briefing the UN security council”, which he said highlighted the “level of opposition we’re currently up against”.
He added the UK would continue to “try to engage” China on the need for “accountability for this horrendous set of crimes”.
Mr Field also stressed the UK was committed to supporting the Rohingya “for the long haul”.
He said: “We all know the Rohingya people have a right to live in their home country in safety and dignity, something at this time of year we very much take for granted.
“For that to happen those responsible for their persecution must be held accountable and the Burmese state must show they’re serious about bringing an end to the prejudice and discrimination that ethnic minorities in Burma have suffered for so long.
“As things stand we have to prepare ourselves for what I fear is going to be a very long journey and we must remember the Burmese people will have to endure every step of that journey.
“That’s why I repeat today – for their sake the UK will stay the course so that one day the people of Burma can live together in peace, justice and prosperity.”