Humanitarian crises monitoring: the Rohingya Contents

Appendix: Letter from Secretary of State

18 May 2020

Dear Sarah,

Thank you for your letter of 5 May providing supplementary questions on the Rohingya crisis following our written Q&A session.

Please find below further written evidence in response to your additional questions:

1. You mention the Bangladesh authorities are building fences around the Rohingya camps which affects the humanitarian response and isolates the Rohingya. What representations has the UK Government made to the Government of Bangladesh about this issue to date?

We believe the civilian and humanitarian principle underpinning the Rohingya settlements must be maintained, and restrictions on refugee rights should be in line with relevant human rights law. Limiting access to refugee settlements should not affect the delivery of life-saving and essential assistance to refugees and host communities. The British High Commission in Dhaka have raised these issues with the Government of Bangladesh as part of regular coordinated messaging across a group of Organisations for Economic Co-operation and Development Heads of Mission and United Nations (UN) Heads of Agencies since the beginning of this year. With the onset of COVID-19, the Government’s programme of fencing the camps has been put on hold.

2. You told us you had already allocated £10 million to support COVID-19 preparedness efforts in the Rohingya camps and surrounding host communities. Please can you tell us whether that funding is in addition to funding previously announced and how it will be allocated?

The UK’s provision of over £10 million to support COVID-19 preparedness efforts in the Rohingya camps and surrounding host communities is part of the £117 million we announced last year.

This funding has been allocated to existing UN and Non-Governmental Organisation partners to maintain essential humanitarian services and prepare Rohingya and host communities for COVID-19. UK funded activities include:

3. You told us you are implementing a Myanmar Government/civil society pilot, to test novel and innovative approaches for re-distributing and registering land. The project aims to provide the Myanmar authorities with the right tools to address land tenure issues, particularly for VFV. This indicates you are still cooperating with the Government of Myanmar on development programmes. Please can you update on the current processes in places to ensure that DFID funded programmes are not in effect legitimising/bolstering a Government of Myanmar that continues to fail to protect its ethnic minorities.

We do not provide any funding directly to the Government of Myanmar. We take careful actions to ensure that funding in Myanmar helps people that need it. This is consistent with our long-standing approach in some other challenging environments around the world, where we seek to use DFID funding to help populations without endorsing their governments’ actions.

DFID Myanmar’s approach to support development policy and programming with the Government is based on a process of ‘principled engagement’. We engage with government officials while advocating approaches that promote the inclusion of marginalised groups, greater transparency and accountability, and seek to build resilience including to climate change. We do not provide funding directly to the Government. All development assistance is provided through multi-lateral organisations or directly contracted, with civil society and ethnic group partners delivering much of our assistance. This enables us to ensure UK aid supported development assistance reaches excluded groups, while empowering civil society and ethnic groups to advocate for, and create models of, more inclusive policies.

For example, the pilot on land tenure will test new systems for registering land, such as VFV, in areas where unused private sector parcels can be redistributed to small holder farmers. The pilot approach will support collaboration between civil society, government, and donors in order to improve the process of land reclamation based on the principles of transparency and conflict sensitivity. In parallel we are working with ethnic organisations to help them formalise their customary land and forestry policies with a view to supporting more inclusive natural resource management. We expect that over time this work will come together to help inform future roll-out of land registration systems.

4. You told us the UK plans to continue to fund the Joint Peace Fund through the CSSF and is discussing options with fund members to pivot funding to focus on COVID-19. Due to the outbreak, the Government and ethic armed groups have delayed peace talks to the end of April and it is likely this will be delayed further. We would be grateful if you could set out what progress the peace process has made since our predecessor Committee last took evidence on this in September 2018.

Since the last update in September 2018, Myanmar’s Peace Process has made limited progress. The formal peace talks (Union Peace Conference) have not been convened as regularly as hoped. The Union Peace Conference, due to be held in May this year, would have been an opportunity to reframe the dialogues to reflect a common interest in federalism and build commitment to talks beyond the election. It is now unlikely that peace talks will proceed in the coming months. There is also no sign that the peace process will have any influence in Rakhine, where violence is increasing in the absence of any formal dialogue.

In 2019, some key signatories to the National Ceasefire Agreement, including the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) and Karen National Union (KNU), temporarily suspended their participation in the progress. They have now resumed participation following dialogue with the Government. They have committed to dialogue beyond the election, at this time still scheduled for November 2020. There have been several dialogues between the ethnic armed organisations (EAOs), the Government, and the military, which have been facilitated with UK support. The Joint Peace Fund (JPF) provides grants to ensure the voices of communities and their hopes for the future are included in the debate.

Despite negotiations with non-signatories during the Myanmar Military’s Unilateral Ceasefire in 2019, non-signatories, and the communities they represent, are not included in the main dialogues. Fighting remains intense in Rakhine, where the recent listing of the Arakan Army (AA) as a terrorist organisation makes it less likely the parties will be able to agree a cessation of hostilities. We remain gravely concerned about escalating conflict in Rakhine and Chin States. Distrust remains between all groups and without a cessation of violence in Rakhine and Chin there remains a grave and imminent risk to civilians and a long-term risk to Myanmar’s stability. It is unlikely the conflict can be resolved militarily without major and unnecessary loss of life. Without negotiations between the Myanmar Military and the AA, countrywide peace will not be achieved. For this reason, Ambassadors in Yangon, including the British Ambassador, have publicly called for a ceasefire to allow for the delivery of humanitarian aid, including to protect vulnerable internally displaced people from COVID-19.

COVID-19 presents an opportunity to encourage collaboration between the Government and EAOs beyond negotiations on the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement and this is an avenue the UK and other development partners are actively pursuing. The President has announced a COVID-19 response EAO coordination committee, which has now met virtually with the signatory groups. An invitation has also been extended by the Government to non-signatories, including the AA. While some non-signatories have responded to this invitation, others, including the AA, have declined. The UK has encouraged two of the large funds we support—Access to Health and the JPF—to assist the development of a COVID-19 needs assessment for EAO controlled areas and the delivery of critical support through Ethnic Health Organisations. We are particularly concerned about these areas given the weakness of existing health services, and high-risk populations, including internally displaced people (for example in Kachin State) and returning migrants. The JPF’s support is important in view of its network of existing relationships and the potential for work on COVID-19 to lead to long-term collaboration.

5. Are you considering shifting funding from any other programmes in Myanmar to COVID-19 preparedness in the short-term?

So far, DFID Myanmar has re-prioritised funding from within its existing budget for health, livelihoods and humanitarian support in Myanmar, as part of the UK’s immediate response to help prepare, limit the spread and impact of COVID-19. Working with the Government of Myanmar, the UN, INGOs and civil society, DFID will focus on supporting those who are most vulnerable to COVID-19, including displaced and conflict-affected people, migrants, the elderly and health workers.

In addition to the above reprioritised funding, we will also strengthen our humanitarian response to COVID-19, with additional humanitarian support focused on conflict affected communities, as part of an extension to our humanitarian programme for the next two years.

Rt Hon Anne-Marie Trevelyan MP

Secretary of State

Published: 22 May 2020