By Tama Salim
The Jakarta Post
Retno engaged her Bangladeshi counterpart AH Mahmood Ali in bilateral talks, but also raised concerns about the tumult in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, which has sparked tens of thousands of Rohingya to flee across the borders into Bangladesh.
“Indonesian-Bangladeshi cooperation goes beyond bilateral interests. It is also an important component in solving the refugee problem in the region,” she said in a press statement after the meeting on Tuesday.
She reiterated the importance of Myanmar and Bangladesh maintaining good ties despite the current influx of refugees, as it would support existing efforts to manage the Bangladesh-Myanmar frontier.
Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi met with regional foreign ministers to tackle growing international criticism of her army’s forceful treatment of the country’s Rohingya minority, which some critics say constitutes crimes against humanity.
Human rights groups have accused the Myanmar military of perpetrating mass murder, looting and rape against the Rohingya in Rakhine in a counterinsurgency operation following coordinated attacks on border police outposts that killed nine officers.
The Rohingya are not considered citizens by Myanmar law, and have also been turned away by ethnically similar Bangladesh.
After the bilateral meeting in Dhaka, both foreign ministers were briefed by the UN refugee agency UNHCR and the International Organization on Migration (IOM).
The agencies presented the challenges in addressing the influx of Rohingya, which had resulted in the overcapacity of refugee camps. Official data show there has been an increase of 10,000 refugees since the Oct. 9 attacks on border posts near the Rakhine border.
Currently there are an estimated 32,000 Muslim refugees from Myanmar registered between the two camps in Bangladesh, in addition to another 200,000 unregistered refugees residing at the border.
Concerns over the far-reaching effects of the turmoil in Rakhine have sparked a regional response, as ASEAN looks to prevent a repeat of the 2015 Rohingya refugee crisis that saw thousands of Rohingya become victims of human trafficking in their efforts to flee the country.
Earlier on Monday, ASEAN foreign ministers convened in Yangon to discuss openly about the situation in Rakhine at the invitation of Suu Kyi.
During talks with the Nobel laureate before departure to Dhaka, Retno urged stronger communications between Myanmar and Bangladesh.
Suu Kyi reciprocated by offering to send a special envoy to Bangladesh, which was passed on to Mahmood Ali and was apparently well-received.
After the briefing, both ministers visited two refugee camps in Ukhiya of Cox’s Bazar, a border town almost 400 kilometers from the capital.
They spent most of their time at a facility for unregistered refugees, where most of the recent inbound Rohingya from Myanmar have taken shelter, Bangladesh’s Daily Star reports.
Bangladeshi State Minister for Foreign Affairs Mohammed Shahriar Alam, local lawmaker Abdur Rahman Bodi, Indonesian Ambassador Iwan Wiranataatmadja and Secretary General of the Bangladeshi Foreign Ministry Md. Shahidul Haque also made the visit.
Accompanied by Mahmood Ali, Retno spoke with the Rohingya at the camps in Kutupalong.
“One can capture the complexity of the problem in Rakhine state from listening to the refugees’ stories. However, their living conditions remain meager regardless of the reasons they came to Kutupalong,” Retno said during the visit.
“So as fellow humans we have to work harder to help them.”
Retno also asserted that the resolution of the refugee crisis must be tackled in the country of origin. To this end, she urged the region’s leaders and other concerned stakeholders to support whatever efforts the Myanmar government was taking to ensure inclusive development in Rakhine.