KUALA LUMPUR – During her two-day mission to Kuala Lumpur at the invitation of His Excellency Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah, the Special Envoy of the United Nations Secretary-General on Myanmar Noeleen Heyzer expressed her appreciation to the people and Government of Malaysia as host of the largest Rohingya refugee population in ASEAN.
Special Envoy Heyzer had very productive discussions with His Excellency Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob and the Foreign Minister on the situation in Myanmar. The Special Envoy echoed the United Nations Secretary-General’s strong condemnation of the executions of pro-democracy leaders by the military as a blatant violation to the right to life, liberty and security of person. The discussions touched on the setback of the executions on ASEAN’s efforts, including the Five-Point Consensus, and also focused on concrete areas of cooperation with the United Nations Special Envoy, as requested by the ASEAN Heads of State and Foreign Ministers. Moving forward, the urgency for inclusive engagement was stressed.
During her meeting with the Foreign Minister, the Special Envoy focused on education to prevent a “lost generation” of Rohingya refugees and other displaced persons from Myanmar and the importance of legal employment and protection for Myanmar migrant workers and refugees in Malaysia.
Nearly five years after the mass forced displacement of Rohingya and other communities from Rakhine State in Myanmar, the Special Envoy highlighted the need for innovative thinking to break the impasse and strengthen support for the Rohingya and host communities from countries in the region and across the international community. She stressed that ultimately it was Myanmar’s responsibility to address underlying issues affecting the Rohingya and establish durable solutions for the voluntary, safe, dignified and sustainable return of all refugees and forcibly displaced persons.
The Special Envoy recognized Malaysia’s major role within ASEAN, as a member of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and in the Vice Presidency of the 77th Session of the General Assembly. Ahead of the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in early August, the Special Envoy also acknowledges the important role of the ASEAN Secretary-General as part of the regional bloc’s commitment on Rakhine. She called for ASEAN Foreign Ministers to keep the Rohingya issue high on the ASEAN agenda and to support the implementation of the recommendations of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State.
Ahead of her visit to Bangladesh in late August, the Special Envoy also highlighted the important cooperation with His Excellency Minister of Foreign Affairs of Bangladesh A. K. Abdul Momen, reflected in his recent visits to Cambodia as chair of ASEAN as well as to Indonesia. Special Envoy Heyzer acknowledged the challenges faced by host countries compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic and global economic conditions, with Bangladesh as host of 1.2 million refugees bearing a disproportionate burden that the international community regionally and abroad has a responsibility to help to alleviate, including through support for quality and inclusive education for refugees and host communities.
“As the UN Secretary-General has said, education is a pre-eminent public good,” Special Envoy Heyzer said. Quality and inclusive education, including vocational training and lifelong learning, has the potential to transform people’s lives and lifelong opportunities as well as to enable them to build societies to become more just, peaceful and prosperous for all.
Ahead of the Transforming Education Summit in New York on 19 September 2022, the Special Envoy emphasized that education was a fundamental right of Rohingya people with long-term ramifications for the region. “As I discussed recently with Permanent Representatives of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation’s Contact Group on the Rohingya crisis and highlighted in my briefing to the General Assembly on 13 June, we need swift measures to prevent a lost generation by providing Rohingya and others education opportunities, including abroad,” she said.
In line with her role to maintain communication and engage intensively with all relevant parties in Myanmar, the Special Envoy continues to consult directly with affected Rohingya communities and their representatives. She is engaging with a wide range of diverse groups currently residing in Malaysia who had been forcibly displaced from Myanmar to hear their perspectives and ways forward to improve the situation. Recognizing women’s crucial role in communities and the gendered dimension of the conflict, Special Envoy Heyzer is encouraged by the resilience of women leaders in her engagement to ensure that Myanmar-led solutions include women’s voices and concerns.
Amid halting progress over the past five years, the desperate situation continues to drive Rohingya people to undertake perilous sea and land journeys, including refugees and people still facing hardship in Rakhine State, despite some community efforts to build social cohesion. There is an urgent need for innovative strategies and concrete pathways aligned with the needs and will of the Rohingya people. The region and the world must renew solidarity to ensure that the Rohingya remain high on the ASEAN and international agenda, provide support for host communities, and continue to work towards durable solutions based on voluntary, safe, dignified and sustainable repatriation.
“We must not allow the Rohingya people’s sense of being forgotten and abandoned to take root,” Special Envoy Heyzer said. “Their right to live in dignity as human beings must be supported and safeguarded by all, including the international community.”
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