As Bangladesh fears it will be left alone with over 1 million Rohingya refugees, DW spoke with Minister of State Niels Annen from the German Foreign Ministry about how the international community can solve the crisis.
DW: During your visit to Bangladesh last week, you spoke with government officials about the Rohingya Muslims who have fled persecution in Myanmar. Do you see any progress there in coping with the refugee crisis?
Niels Annen: During my visit I at least felt a sense of optimism. Bangladesh and Myanmar are communicating with each other over the return of the refugees. China and India are also providing assistance in building accommodation. However, it will still be a long time before the refugees can return. The Rohingya are still not confident that they are safe and welcome in Myanmar.
In the short term, that means that Bangladesh will have to take care of 1 million refugees. This is an enormous challenge for the country along with local aid organizations and I have a lot of respect for everyone involved.
A political solution is also necessary moving forward. Myanmar must meet the requirements necessary for a voluntary, sustainable and secure return of Rohingya to Rakhine State. The international community can and will provide assistance with this.
Although Myanmar and Bangladesh have signed an agreement for the return of refugees, progress has been slow. How optimistic are you that a prompt solution can be found for this crisis?
Various committees at the United Nations are extremely committed to finding a solution, and Germany is very active as a member country of the UN Human Rights Council, and starting in 2019, the UN Security Council. Together with the EU and other partners, we are making sure that this crisis stays at the top of the international agenda.
Although finding a quick solution would be in the best interests of those affected, we must remain realistic. The greatest fear in Bangladesh is that they will be left alone with a million refugees, while the international community moves on to new crises.
Myanmar does not want to recognize the Rohingya as citizens. Where do you see an effective solution to the crisis?
Unfortunately, in Myanmar there continue to be reservations towards the Rohingya and resistance against their return – both on the state and community level. To overcome these obstacles we need positive incentives, but also international pressure. We are speaking with Myanmar's neighbors, influential countries like China and India, about becoming more involved in finding a solution and contributing to a change of thinking in Myanmar about the Rohingya.
Can Germany and Europe also contribute more?
Up to now, Germany has supported the Rohingya in Bangladesh with over 20 million euros in humanitarian aid and an additional 4 million euros in so-called transitional aid for things like building schools.
After the 2018 federal budget is adopted, other humanitarian aid is planned along with stabilization and development cooperation.
The EU and other European countries, as well as multilateral donors, are also investing considerable sums of money. Representatives of aid organizations told me in Dhaka that after the direct needs of the refugees have been met, more long-term measures must be taken, for example providing education and the opportunity to earn an income. However, money alone is not enough. We need a coordinated diplomatic and political approach.
Niels Annen is minister of state at the German Foreign Ministry.
This interview was conducted by Hao Gui.