Myanmar should recognise its ethnic minority Rohingyas as citizens, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos has said.
"It's a great pity that the Rohingyas are treated as equivalent of football in a field. I am very concerned about the denial of basic rights to the Rohingyas. It's important that Myanmar recognise them. Government of Myanmar should recognise its ethnic minority as citizens," she said in an exclusive interview with The Daily Star at a city hotel yesterday.
Valerie Amos spent two days in Dhaka on the first leg of her week-long three-nation visit that will also take her to Myanmar today and Thailand on Saturday.
Amos, the first black woman ever in a UK cabinet and also the first black Leader of the British House of Lords, appreciated that Bangladesh played host to Rohingya refugees in the past, and said she also expect that when "they're (Rohingyas) persecuted, they get some supports."
Without giving details, Amos said she had talks with the Bangladesh foreign minister on Ronhingya issue as well. Besides, she had meetings with the disaster management minister, non-governmental organisations and the UN Country Team in Bangladesh to discuss disaster preparedness.
In Myanmar, Amos said, the violence in Rakhine state has affected all communities, but particularly the Rohingyas. Her office allocated $11 million this year for humanitarian relief. A Saudi government pledge of $50 million, she said, would help humanitarian agencies to step up their activities in Myanmar, and help "us to reach more people."
During her visit to Myanmar, Amos is expected to highlight humanitarian concerns in that country and discuss with the Myanmar authorities concrete steps to address the challenges and moves towards reconciliation and stability. She is scheduled to visit the trouble-torn Rakhine State apart from visiting the nation's capital.
In Thailand, Amos is scheduled to hold a press briefing in Bangkok on December 8 to talk with the regional media about her mission and its findings.
She said Bangladesh is an example of good risk management capabilities with its records of minimising casualties in big disasters. "This is also one of the reasons why I am here -- to learn from Bangladesh's experience and apply Bangladesh example elsewhere."
While praising the country's cyclone preparedness, Amos underscored the need for further consolidating the nation's preparedness to tackle any eventuality of earthquakes striking the country.
In this regard, she mentioned the recent appointment of a humanitarian affairs adviser at the UN Resident Coordinator's office in Dhaka.
Gerson Brandao, the adviser, who was sitting near her during the interview, said Bangladesh targeted to train up 62,000 volunteers to assist government agencies in any eventuality of tremors striking the country, and "so far, 18,000 are already trained up."
Through different UN agencies, Bangladesh got support worth $31 million in 2011, said Brandao. The country also hosted a Saarc region workshop on cooperation on search and rescue operations in May this year.
Amos said, "Outstanding thing here (in Bangladesh) is good presence of volunteer community. When disaster strikes, community knows the best about how to tackle the aftermath."
Her colleague from the Bangkok regional office Oliver Lacey-Hall, who also was present during the interview, said Bangladesh contributed hugely in drafting a guide for disaster management, which should be ready for publication and dissemination throughout the world by the turn of the year.
Expressing a deep sense of sorrow at so many fire deaths in Bangladesh's garment industry, Amos said, "We always encourage the governments to ensure building code in setting up factories and also ensuring proper fire exits in factories where large number of workers are employed."
According to statistics provided by Amos, the UN coordinated humanitarian relief for 56 million people in 33 countries last year. But, she said, overall needs were even greater than that. Disasters and emergencies affected 245 million people and caused record-breaking economic losses of $366 billion, she added.