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Rep. Tulsi Gabbard and others introduce resolution to protect religious minorities in Bangladesh

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Washington, DC:  Today, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D, HI-02) a member of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, introduced a bipartisan resolution calling on the government of Bangladesh to increase human rights protections, strengthen democratic institutions, and prevent the growth of extremist groups in the country. The resolution comes as ISIS and other trans-national radical Islamic groups continue to grow their influence in areas like South Asia. Co-sponsors include Asia and the Pacific Subcommittee Chairman Matt Salmon (R, AZ-05) and Rep. Bob Dold (R, IL-10).
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Tulsi Gabbard. Photo Credit: shoebat.com

In a speech on the House floor introducing the resolution, Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard stated, “Bangladesh is a country in turmoil.  There are many concerns about the stability of the country, particularly since flawed elections were held last year, and the political violence that has ensued. I am particularly concerned over issues of religious freedom, and specifically, attacks against minority Hindus, Christians, Buddhists, and others, in Bangladesh.  All too often perpetrators of crimes against minorities go unpunished. It’s up to the government of Bangladesh to take action to stop those who incite and commit violence and protect the rights of these minorities. [This resolution] calls on the government of Bangladesh to protect the human rights of all its citizens, particularly its vulnerable minorities, strengthen democratic institutions and rule of law, and prevent the growth of extremist groups.”

“It was an honor to work on this resolution with Rep. Gabbard,” said Congressman Matt Salmon. “In Bangladesh, there is great potential. Through this resolution, we have encouraged Bangladesh to embrace non-violent democratic competition and rule of law, and to shirk political violence and religious extremism. We expect Bangladesh to respect human dignity, honor commitments to freedom of expression and religion, and protect the human rights of all citizens, no matter one’s political disposition, creed, or religion. This resolution reaffirms our dedication to these principles.”
“Religious persecution is on the rise around the world, with 77% of the world’s population now living in countries with high restrictions on religious freedom,” said Congressman Bob Dold. “As the greatest force for human dignity in the world, the United States has an obligation to send the unequivocal message that we will not tolerate countries that fail to protect the fundamental freedoms of all citizens, especially minorities. I am pleased to join with my colleagues from both sides of the aisle calling on the government of Bangladesh to protect the rights of minorities, eliminate violent extremist groups and restore the rule of law.”
Background
Bangladesh, a Muslim-majority nation in South Asia, is the world’s eighth most populous country in the world. The country’s faltering democratic system  has been subjected to an array of pressures in recent years, including a combination of political violence, corruption, poverty, and increasingly, Islamist militancy. Religious minorities, including Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, and Ahmadiyya Muslims, in Bangladesh face high levels of persecution, including the destruction of temples, homes and businesses.

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UN Appeals to Aid Rohingya Refugees in Bangladesh

Rohingya Refugee Crisis Has Bangladesh, UN Calling for Help

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Rohingya refugees
Rohingya refugees wait in an area following a boat capsizing accident, in Teknaf. VOA

By Lisa Schlein

The U.N. refugee and migration agencies are jointly appealing for $877 million to aid 855,000 Rohingya refugees, most of whom fled violence and persecution from Myanmar three years ago, and more than 444,000 vulnerable Bangladeshis hosting them.

More than half of the money will provide vital services, including food, shelter, clean water and sanitation.  The rest of the appeal will be used for health, protection, education, site management, energy and environmental needs.

Shahriar Alam of Bangladesh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs says his government has welcomed this large exiled population within its midst.  But he acknowledges their presence poses challenges and that the solution to the plight of the Rohingya refugees is repatriation to Myanmar when that becomes possible. But this is unlikely to happen, he says, without the vigorous support of the International community.

“We expect that U.N. member countries to do more and work closely and do everything possible to put pressure on Myanmar to take their citizenship back in a manner, a repatriation that is safe, voluntary, and dignified,” Alam said.

Rohingya refugees
Coast guards escort Rohingya refugees following a boat capsizing accident, in Teknaf. VOA

UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi agrees that Bangladesh deserves support for hosting nearly one million Rohingya.  He laments the short attention span of the media and the international community who quickly move from one crisis to another.

As a consequence, he says the Rohingya have become largely forgotten.  He agrees with the Government of Bangladesh that the solution continues to be in Myanmar.

“The problem is that things that need to be done there to create conditions for refugees to return from Bangladesh into Myanmar are too slow or not happening yet–freedom of movement, return of internally displaced people that are in camps in Rakhine State,” Grandi said.

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Grandi says those who return should be granted housing, land, and property rights and be given the education and training they need to be able to work.  But the most fundamental step of all, he says, is for the Rohingya to be given a path to citizenship.

The Rohingya who have lived in Myanmar for generations were stripped of their citizenship in 1982. (VOA)