UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Cate Blanchett has said the focus of all their efforts must be to provide much-needed support inside Bangladesh while working to ensure conditions in Myanmar are conducive to Rohingyas’ return to their homeland.
"We have failed the Rohingya before. Please, let us not fail them again," she said while addressing at the UN Security Council on the Rohingya crisis in New York on Tuesday.
The UNHCR envoy said with only 33 per cent of the refugee operation funded – amounting to less than 70 cents per person per day – this is not surprising. "Rather, it is quite embarrassing."
"A clear pathway to full citizenship is essential. This is not a luxury. This is not a privilege. This is a basic right that all of us here enjoy. A right that the Rohingya do not have," she added.
She said together, they need to change the future of Laila, of Yousuf, of Gul Zahar and of all the Rohingya living in Myanmar, in Bangladesh and beyond.
"There are no short cuts. There are no alternatives."
Cate visited Bangladesh last March as a UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador, to see what she could contribute in responding to the massive humanitarian needs unfolding there.
"Nothing could have prepared me for the extent and depth of the suffering I saw," she said.
"An eighteen year old woman who I’ll call Laila is chief among my memories."
One of the 720,000 stateless Rohingyas who fled violence and abuse in Myanmar’s Rakhine State since August 2017, Laila fled her burning village with her infant son, Yousuf.
She said as this Council and the UN work with the Government of Myanmar to ensure this, urgent efforts are still needed for the Rohingya in Bangladesh.
"It is important to recall that this is not the first wave of massive forced displacement of Rohingya refugees from Myanmar to Bangladesh in the past 40 years. The scale of displacement is so large and so severe that today, there are more Rohingya living in exile than in Myanmar itself."
In 1978, some 200,000 Rohingya refugees streamed into Bangladesh, fleeing brutality and widespread abuse. Gul Zahar, a young Rohingya woman, was among those who fled.
Fourteen years later, in 1992, another wave of violence forced 250,000 Rohingya refugees to seek safety once again in neighboring Bangladesh. Once again, Gul Zahar was among those who fled.
Today, there are 900,000 stateless Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. Gul Zahar, now 90-years of age, is sadly among them once more.
Four decades following her initial flight, Gul lives in abject poverty in Bangladesh with the sole wish that her great grandchildren will have a better future.
Cate said the need for this future to transpire inside Myanmar has never been more urgent.
"If we fail to act now, Gul’s grandchildren, like thousands of others, will be unable to escape this relentless cycle that generations of Rohingya have experienced," she said.
The UNHCR envoy said Bangladesh’s recent response, receiving over 700,000 refugees in a matter of months and providing them safety, is one of the most visible and significant gestures of humanity in our time. "But the needs are vast. The suffering is acute. Much more international support is needed."
Many Bangladeshi villagers living nearby, with very little to call their own have been helping the Rohingya refugees over the past year.
"If people with so little can step up, why can’t we do better?" Cate said.
She said Rohingyas need more than just food and water, informal schools, temporary shelter. "They need a future."
Cate said it is imperative that governments, development and humanitarian agencies, the private sector and individuals work in solidarity to find innovative ways to help the refugees and the Bangladeshi host communities.
The denial of their rights to move; their right to marry; their right to work; their right to health care and education, renders them among the most vulnerable people on the planet, she said.
"Refugees move back home when it is safe and secure to do so. The Rohingya cannot return to the very conditions they were forced to flee. They cannot settle for half solutions," she mentioned.
Cate implored this Council not to forget this imperative and to support all efforts to make it a reality.
In the meantime, to encourage more robust international support required to meet urgent and pressing needs within Bangladesh.