Rohingya Muslims

China pledges aid for Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, but ‘doesn’t want to damage ties with Myanmar’

More than 300,000 people are ‘living in terrible conditions’ and need support, commerce ministry says

PUBLISHED : Friday, 15 September, 2017, 9:33pm
UPDATED : Friday, 15 September, 2017, 11:26pm

China has promised to send humanitarian aid to Bangladesh as the Rohingya refugee crisis sparked by a violent clash in western Myanmar last month continues to escalate.

The Ministry of Commerce said in a brief statement on Thursday evening that the government would “trigger emergency humanitarian aid ... to provide much-needed materials to help Bangladesh resettle the refugees”.

More than 300,000 people were “living in terrible conditions” and needed support, it said. It did not specify exactly how much aid would be provided or when it would be dispatched.

The refugee crisis began when government forces in Rakhine state clashed with a group of armed Rohingya on August 25. Myanmar said the Rohingya were terrorists, but human rights groups and Western governments said the military response was too heavy-handed.

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Several countries have already shipped aid to Bangladesh, including India, which sent 53 tonnes of relief materials on Thursday.

Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims, mostly women and children, have fled Myanmar out of fear of being attacked by the military, which is allegedly supported by Buddhist militia groups that have ransacked many villages in Rakhine.

In less than three weeks the number of refugees entering Bangladesh has grown to three times the number that has tried to cross the Mediterranean into Europe since the start of the year. The Bangladeshi government and aid agencies have struggled to cope.

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China, which has close ties to both Myanmar and Bangladesh, has said it supports the Myanmar government’s efforts to uphold peace and stability in Rakhine. Its diplomats have said the military offensive was an internal affair.

Observers have said Beijing was likely to boost its humanitarian assistance to the refugees, but would avoid damaging its political ties with Myanmar, as Chinese companies have invested in several infrastructure projects in the country.

“China will maintain its non-interference policy but will also be proactive [in trying] to mediate in the Rohingya issue,” Hu Zhiyong, an associate researcher at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, said.

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Unicef has appealed for US$7.3 million, which it said it needed to provide emergency support to Rohingya children over the next four months.

While Western countries have been slow to respond to the humanitarian crisis in Bangladesh, Muslim-majority countries, including Malaysia, Indonesia and Turkey, have expressed their support for the refugees.

After a telephone conversation between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Aung San Suu Kyi, the de facto leader of Myanmar, earlier this month, the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency said it would provide basic aid such as rice, dried fish and clothing to the Rohingya refugees.

Malaysia said last week it had agreed with the Bangladeshi government to provide an “integrated humanitarian mission” to help refugees in Chittagong.

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak described the crisis as “a humanitarian issue and not a religious issue”.