Bangladesh, Burma and the Rohingya crisis Contents


Previous reports

1.In October 2017 we commenced an inquiry into DFID’s work in Bangladesh and Burma and the Rohingya crisis. Due to the severity and urgency of the unfolding plight of the Rohingya refugees we have published two reports on that situation in advance of completing this wider look at the two countries DFID programmes.2 These earlier reports complement this one.

2.The first report in the series examined:

We received and then published the Government’s response to this report on 28 March 2018.

3.The latter report - on monsoon preparedness - followed our visit, in March, to the Rohingya refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, and arose from the conditions we saw and the obvious necessity of taking urgent action before the annual heavy rains of June, July and August devastated the fragile sanctuary given to the Rohingya in that area.

4.We received the Government’s reply on 14 May 2018 and we are publishing it alongside this report.

5.This report, our third from this inquiry, provides:

Assistance during the inquiry

6.We are grateful to all those who contributed to our inquiry by providing written and/or oral evidence. We also thank our hosts and interlocutors in Bangladesh - not least DFID’s team there and the British High Commission - for the high quality and quantity of the site visits, meetings and discussions we were able to experience, despite challenging logistics. We would like to record particular appreciation for the Rohingya representatives we met in Cox’s Bazar for whom discussion of their recent experiences of violence, loss and devastating deprivation, was very plainly no easy matter.4

Refusal of visas to visit Burma

7.We also express appreciation for the efforts of DFID Burma, the UK Ambassador there, FCO Ministers and staff in London, and Mr Speaker, for their efforts and interventions in trying to persuade the Burmese government to authorise visas for members and staff of the Committee to visit Burma to see DFID’s work at first hand. Unfortunately, these efforts were in vain.5

8.We were disappointed not to be allowed to visit Burma to see any UK aid projects in that country funded by the UK’s allocation of £100 million development assistance per year. Visas were refused at the last minute—and reportedly by decision taken at the highest level. The reasons given varied but were essentially spurious.6 We can only assume that the Burmese government was reacting to the criticism contained in our first report on the Rohingya crisis and voiced by many other members of both Houses during questions and debates on the matter.

9.As Mr Speaker, Rt Hon John Bercow MP, highlighted during the Urgent Question on the matter on 28 February: “In democracies, parliamentarians do criticise governments. That is a lesson that the Burmese Government will have to learn.”7 The effect was to curtail our scrutiny of DFID’s work and sharpen our focus on whether UK aid for Burma was being channelled and focused in an appropriate way given the new circumstances, post-August 2017.

10.We recommend that DFID seek to agree with the authorities of any country in receipt of multiple millions of pounds worth of UK aid—whether any of that aid is channelled via government agencies or not—that there is a presumption of access to scrutinise the relevant projects on the ground for UK personnel engaged in audit or accountability, including the relevant parliamentary select committee. Indeed, the principle of diplomatic reciprocity indicates that the UK parliamentarians should have access to any country with whom the UK has diplomatic relations.

2 Bangladesh and Burma: the Rohingya crisis, Second report, 2017–19, HC 504, 15 January 2018; and Bangladesh and Burma: the Rohingya Crisis - monsoon preparedness in Cox’s Bazar, Third report, 2017–19, HC 904, 20 March 2018.

3 Op. cit., and see Bangladesh and Burma: the Rohingya crisis: Government response to the Committee, Fourth Special report, 2017–19, HC 919, 28 March 2018.

6 We were told that: there was a public holiday in Burma (which had been factored in to our plans from the start); access to Rakhine state was restricted for security reasons (we had alternative destinations); and there was unhappiness that individual members of the Committee had signed a letter calling for the Burmese army to be held to account for its conduct in Rakhine (the Burmese have arrested ten of its soldiers for such conduct—unlikely to be the full story but an admission of problems nonetheless).

7 Hansard–02–28/debates/38C514F3–0169–4817–810D-1035CCA4F398/InternationalDevelopmentCommitteeBurmaVisas

Published: 22 May 2018