DHAKA, Bangladesh

Turkey has said that helping the persecuted Rohingya refugees and finding a lasting solution to the crises are its main foreign policy objectives and priorities.

In an interview with Anadolu Agency, Turkish Ambassador to Bangladesh Mustafa Osman Turan said his country has provided the highest amount of humanitarian assistance to the refugees camping in Bangladesh since 2017 when a crackdown by Myanmar military led their killings and displacement.

Turkish envoy also said that Turkey’s contributions to the welfare of Rohingya Muslims in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar camps exceed $60 million, besides the aid which is dispersed through the UN agencies.

“Additionally, we have set up a field hospital in Cox’s Bazar, which is operated by Turkish doctors and nurses. The bilateral financial contribution of Turkey for Rohingya Muslims in Cox’s Bazar exceeds $60 million. Turkey also aids the Rohingya through UN agencies, “he said.

Turan emphasized the need for accountability and closure for the sake of giving justice to the victims.

“Accountability is a primary guarantee for preventing the recurrence of such crimes in the future. In this respect, in close cooperation with the OIC, we are closely following Gambia’s case against Myanmar on ICJ [International Court of Justice],” he said.

On the situation of Rohingya living in densely camps in Bangladesh, the Turkish ambassador expressed the need for their peaceful repatriation. He said their living conditions will get worse due to the geography of the region and limited resources for sustenance for almost one million people.

“As the long-term host of the Rohingya, Bangladesh would also suffer from the socioeconomic consequences. Failure to provide accountability for the suffering in Rakhine state and its consequences in Cox’s Bazar will result in a lack of trust for major international actors and legal mechanisms,” he said.

The envoy further said the Rohingya need to be given freedom of communication, describing it as one of the basic ingredients of human rights.

“Ensuring security in the camps should also be a priority as long as it does not prevent the Rohingya from communicating with each other and humanitarian actors in times of emergency, “he added.

On Sunday Bangladesh government indicated that it will restore mobile networks and internet services in Rohingya refugee camps to ensure better services amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Anadolu Agency: What is the overall contribution of Turkey to help the persecuted Rohingya Muslims camping in Bangladesh?

Mustafa Osman Turan (MOT): We have been very active in the field with the help of tireless efforts of our humanitarian workers, volunteers, and from public institutions and NGOs.

Turkey’s development cooperation agency TIKA, our national disaster management authority AFAD, the Turkish Red Crescent, the Turkish Diyanet Foundation, and several NGOs from Turkey have been involved in many humanitarian activities, from nutrition to health and education, in cooperation with Bangladesh and the relevant UN agencies.

Additionally, we have set up a field hospital in Cox’s Bazar, which is operated by Turkish doctors and nurses. The bilateral financial contribution of Turkey for Rohingya Muslims in Cox’s Bazar exceeds $60 million. Turkey also aids the Rohingya through UN agencies.

Q: What are the future plans of Turkey in terms of humanitarian assistance to Rohingya in Bangladesh?

MOT: Helping the Rohingya is one of our main foreign policy objectives, as a country that has offered the highest amount of humanitarian assistance for over the past three years since 2017. Our official institutions and NGOs in Cox’s Bazar will maintain their humanitarian activities for the Rohingya as long as this tragedy continues. We also encourage the international community to initiate new projects particularly oriented for women and children, including education and skill-building.

– Lasting solution a priority

Q: What type of diplomatic assistance Turkey envisages to provide for peaceful repatriation of Rohingya to their home country Myanmar?

MOT: A lasting solution to the Rohingya crisis is a priority, both for us and the international community. This is only possible with a safe, sustainable, and dignified return of Rohingya to Myanmar. We are aware that there is no other solution to this tragedy. After three years, the world is still waiting for concrete steps from Myanmar. We are closely following the developments in this realm.

We need a new model of predictable and equitable responsibility-sharing. Although in different parts of the world, Turkey and Bangladesh bear the brunt of similar emergencies next door. The international community should take immediate measures with a view to preventing an ongoing humanitarian catastrophe and alleviating the burden on Bangladesh. We all must contribute to the process of implementing the arrangement between Bangladesh and Myanmar on the return of refugees.

The accountability issue is also on our agenda. For the way forward, accountability remains crucial as victims need justice and closure. Accountability is a primary guarantee for preventing the recurrence of such crimes in the future. In this respect, in close cooperation with the OIC, we are closely following Gambia’s case against Myanmar on ICJ [International Court of Justice].

Turkey is committed to continuing its support to both Bangladesh and the Rohingya people. We will remain committed until this crisis is resolved by the recognition of the legitimate rights as well as the security and dignity of the Rohingya people in Myanmar.

Q: What is the long-term impact of the failure of peaceful and dignified repatriation of Rohingya?

MOT: Failure in Rohingya repatriation will deepen the humanitarian situation we witness in Cox’s Bazar. Living conditions of the Rohingya will get much worse due to the geography of the region and limited resources to sustain the survival of almost one million people in the camps. As the long-term host of the Rohingya, Bangladesh would also suffer from the socioeconomic consequences. Failure to provide accountability for the suffering in [Myanmar’s] Rakhine state and its consequences in Cox’s Bazar [southeastern Bangladesh] will result in a lack of trust for major international actors and legal mechanisms.

– Focus on the safe return of the Rohingya

Q: What is your opinion about the refugee status for Rohingya? You know Bangladesh does not recognize Rohingya as refugees; rather the host country is treating them as stateless persecuted people.

MOT: International community should mainly focus on the safe return of the Rohingya in addition to the status of the Rohingya in Bangladesh. We believe that a sustainable solution will clear these discussions and serve the best interests of every actor in the region. As a country that hosts the world’s largest refugee population, due to the massive displacement caused by the conflict in Syria, we understand and acknowledge the immense challenges faced by Bangladesh in this crisis. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her government, as well as the people of Bangladesh, are displaying an exemplary humanitarian virtue and resolve for helping these displaced people.

Q: On security ground, Bangladesh has been blocking the internet and use of mobile SIMs by Rohingya refugees since September 2019. What is your opinion about it?

MOT: Freedom of communication is one of the basic human rights and it should not be taken away from the Rohingya in Cox’s Bazar camps. Communication is required to strengthen all kinds of humanitarian response activities by official institutions and NGOs. Ensuring security in the camps should also be a priority as long as it does not prevent the Rohingya from communicating with each other and humanitarian actors in times of emergency.

Q: How should the host country, Bangladesh, treat Rohingya amid this pandemic?

MOT: COVID-19 response has been extremely challenging for all countries in the world regardless of their level of development. Bangladesh is dealing with the consequences of this pandemic on both its people and the Rohingya in the camps. Basic medical facilities were provided to the Rohingya with the assistance of the international community. The infection rate in the camps remains low despite the high number of Rohingya people staying in a limited area. We hope that existing efforts will be enough to handle the pandemic in the camps in Cox’s Bazar. Turkey will continue to do its best to support Bangladesh.

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