Written by Diplomatic Correspondent
“Myanmar authorities must show the genuine commitment needed to end the cycle of violence and displacement”
The heart of humanity-with this introduction, she is characterized most in recent times. Oscar-winning actress, professional model, and listed on countless “most beautiful women” lists, Angelina Jolie recently made a visit to Bangladesh and listened to the horrifying and heartbreaking testimonies from Rohingya refugees who have gone through years of persecution and abuse in Myanmar... ...
She raised her voice saying, “Myanmar authorities must show the genuine commitment needed to end the cycle of violence and displacement and improve the conditions for Rohingyas community in Rakhine State”. She insisted that the world must not turn away from the nearly 1 million Rohingyas who have fled from Myanmar to Bangladesh. Angelina Jolie praised Bangladesh and branded “a powerful example” for its humanitarian role in Rohingya crisis.
The Special Envoy of UNHCR visited Bangladesh from February 4th to February 7th. Apart from visiting multiple Rohingya camps, she also held meeting with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Foreign Minister Dr. AK Abdul Momen and shared her experiences with the media.
Jolie’s visit to Bangladesh marked 64th mission with UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, since 2001. It was her first mission to Bangladesh. She met with displaced Rohingya people in Myanmar in 2015 and in India in 2006. Decades of injustice have driven nearly 1 million Rohingya to flee their homes in Myanmar and forced them to seek refuge in Bangladesh – the majority of them in the last 18 months.
Angelina Jolie arrived Dhaka on February 4th in the morning and went straight to Cox’s Bazar.
She started her visit spending the afternoon in Chakmarkul, a smaller camp hosting around 12,000 refugees. At a community center there, she spent time with a group of refugee women who had experienced sexual violence, including mass rape.
“When we are together, we talk about our pain,” one of the women said. “We share our thoughts and try to console each other, take care of each other. But at night the pain comes back, and we are terrified. It’s a great pain that always haunts us.”
On February 5th, at a transit center close to the border, Jolie met with some young women who shared their untold stories. An 18 years old pregnant woman, Jorina told Jolie that she was born stateless. Two subsequent tragedies – the death of her mother many years ago, and the killing of her father in recent times – made her an orphan. Now she is a refugee.
Later in the day, Jolie met with Rohingya children in a two storied learning center made of bamboo among the densely populated hills of Kutupalong refugee camp.
Most of the children in attendance had never set foot in a classroom before coming to Bangladesh. “Back home”, their parents told Jolie, “education is out of reach for most Rohingya, often banned, taxed or discouraged with physical threats.”
In Kutupalong, Jolie visited a joint Government of Bangladesh and UNHCR registration center where Rohingya refugees are issued biometric identity cards. For people who are stateless, it is the strongest recognition of their identity they have ever known: a document that calls them by their name, spells out their right to stay safely in Bangladesh, enhances their protection and assistance, and affirms their right to return voluntarily to their homes when conditions are right.
Later on, addressing the media and Rohingya refugees in the camp, Special Envoy Jolie said, “All refugees are inherently vulnerable. But the Rohingya are not only displaced – they are stateless. They have been denied their most basic human right: citizenship in their country of birth. And some still won’t even call the Rohingya by their rightful name.”
“It was deeply upsetting to meet the families who have only known persecution and statelessness their whole lives, who speak of being “treated like cattle”, she added.
“I want to say I am humbled and proud to stand with you today. You have every right to live in security, to be free to practice your religion and to coexist with people of other faiths and ethnicities. You have every right not to be stateless, and the way you have been treated shames us all”, she told.
With a frustration Jolie said, "While UNHCR is ready to support efforts to improve conditions, there has been very little progress at the grassroots. Rohingyas cannot return to Myanmar at this time."
She urged the Myanmar authorities to show the genuine commitment needed to end the cycle of violence and displacement and improve the conditions for all communities in Rakhine State, in line with the recommendations of the Rakhine Advisory Commission, and working together with UNHCR and others.
“The people responsible for human rights violations must be held accountable for their actions”, she added.
Praising Bangladesh’s role Jolie said, “Bangladesh’s generosity in giving the Rohingya people a place of safety is a significant and visible gesture of humanity.”
She further added that Bangladesh is a generous country rich in culture and history, but with limited resources. And it cannot be left alone to shoulder the responsibility of hosting the Rohingya refugees alone.
She urged the international community to continue to provide the humanitarian aid necessary to meet the needs of the refugees and support the communities so generously hosting them.
On February 6th, Angelina Jolie separately met with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Foreign Minister Dr. AK Abdul Momen.
In the meeting with Prime Minister at the Ganabhaban, she praised Sheikh Hasina’s leadership as “exemplary” for keeping Bangladesh’s border open for the Rohingyas who have fled violent persecution in Myanmar. She says the world needs more leaders like her.
Myanmar must create an atmosphere favorable for safe and dignified return of the Rohingyas before the repatriation process starts, the Hollywood star told Prime Minister Hasina.
Jolie said the UN and other organizations will continue working together so that Bangladesh can share the burden of refugees.
Prime Minister told Jolie about her days in exile as a refugee after the killings of her father Bangabandhu and most other members of the family in 1975. She also expressed her frustration over Myanmar dillydallying in taking back the Rohingyas.
Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen urged superstar Angelina Jolie to organize a mega event in Hollywood in an effort to mobilize public opinion worldwide highlighting the plight and rights of the Rohingya community while meeting her at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The minister gave a reference to her of the George Harrison’s "Concert for Bangladesh" held in New York in 1971 that had created huge public opinion in favor of the Bangladesh War of Liberation.
On February 7th, before leaving Dhaka Angelina Jolie left a strong message to the world community saying, “The world must not turn away from the nearly 1 million Rohingyas who have fled from Myanmar to Bangladesh.” She also sought continued support for those who have been displaced, until the Myanmar authorities show the genuine commitment needed to end a decades-long cycle of violence and displacement.
Bangladesh has been heavily affected by the influx of more than 7,30,000 Rohingyas from Myanmar since August 2017 and now hosts over a million refugees.