COX’S BAZAR, Bangladesh — Angelina Jolie on Tuesday urged Myanmar to show a genuine commitment to ending violence and displacement in its Rakhine state, where hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims have fled to neighboring Bangladesh for safety.
Jolie, a special envoy for the U.N.’s refugee agency, spoke as she visited sprawling camps in Bangladesh that are home to 1 million Rohingya refugees. More than 700,000 have arrived since August 2017, when Myanmar’s army led a violent crackdown following attacks on security posts by a Rohingya insurgent group.
Jolie is visiting for three days before launching a global appeal for USD$920 million, chiefly to support the refugees’ needs for 2019. She met and talked with refugees, including children and rape victims.
“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 told reporters at the Kutupalong refugee camp.
Jolie added: “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.”
She thanked Bangladesh for hosting the refugees despite being over populated, and urged the international community to provide more resources for the refugees.
“Bangladesh is a generous country rich in culture and history, but with limited resources. And it cannot be left to shoulder the responsibility of hosting Rohingya refugees alone,” she said.
Jolie said Myanmar must ensure safety for the Rohingya to return home.
“They have an absolute right to return home, but only when they feel safe enough to do so voluntarily and they know that their rights will be respected,” she said.
Bangladesh attempted to start repatriation of Rohingya in November last year, but the country postponed the process after no Rohingya came forward to go back voluntarily.
The U.N. and other global human rights groups have said no Rohingya should be forced to return.
Bangladesh authorities said they will send them back only if they are willing to go back and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has urged international community to put pressure on Myanmar for ensuring safety in the country for making their voluntary return possible.
Most people in Buddhist-majority Myanmar do not accept that the Rohingya Muslims are a native ethnic group, viewing them as “Bengalis” who entered from Bangladesh centuries ago.
Nearly all have been denied citizenship since 1982, as well as access to education and hospitals.