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Rohingya crisis: Red Cross faced with 'real challenge'

Rohingya refugees stretch their hands to receive food distributed in Kutupalong, Bangladesh

New Delhi, Dec 9 (UITV/IANS) - The Red Cross is faced with a "real challenge" following the Rohingya refugee crisis triggered by violence in Myanmar's Rakhine State, a senior official of the international humanitarian organisation has said.

"The specificity of the situation is that only the Red Cross and Red Crescent movement is allowed to work in Rakhine State as humanitarian help," Christine Beerli, Vice President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), told IANS in an interview.

"So, it is a real challenge because the needs are big, the situation is tense," said Beerli, who was here to attend the International Conference on Certain Conventional Weapons.

More than 625,000 Rohingyas have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh since violence erupted in Rakhine late in August.
The minority Rohingya community does not enjoy citizenship in Myanmar and is sparingly given refugee status in Bangladesh.

Human rights monitors accused Myanmar's military of atrocities against the minority population during its clearance operations following Rohingya militants' August 25 attacks on multiple government posts.

Last month, however, Bangladesh Foreign Minister Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali and Minister for the Office of the State Counsellor of Myanmar Kyaw Tint Swe signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) in Nay Pyi Taw for the return of these refugees.

India has maintained that the issue should be handled in a humane manner, development activities should be initiated in Rakhine and conditions should be created for the safe and secure return of the refugees to their homes. New Delhi has also sent relief material for the refugees in both Rakhine and Bangladesh.

Stating that the Red Cross was working on both sides of the border between Myanmar and Bangladesh, Beerli said that "we try really to do as a movement the best we can".

"For a long time they (the Rohingya refugees) were in a certain sense caught in no man's land," she stated. "One of my colleagues told me how he was there and helped in food distribution, and how we can help these people in this situation."

Beerli said that with the Cox's Bazar refugee camp filled up with over 600,000 people, the Red Cross has found itself in a difficult situation.

"Nobody knows exactly how it will go on. You hear a lot of different opinions and we have to see if it will be possible for these people to go back," she said.

Stating that the Red Cross would never influence these people, the ICRC Vice President said that it was for them to decide "in their free will to go wherever they want to go or stay where they want to work".

"We are just helping and looking that they survive and they are not caught in a bad situation," she said.

Asked if the Red Cross was talking with the authorities in Myanmar, Beerli said that her organisation has been talking with all the parties in the midst of this problematic situation.

"We are not a political institution... The definitive solutions have always to be found by the politicians. Peace can only be made by the politicians. We are humanitarians."

Asked about India's role in the current scenario, Beerli declined to comment, but said that India as a neighbour was well aware of the situation in Myanmar.

"We are working together with the Indian Red Cross and we are happy to have them as partner," she said.

While the Red Cross is working with 80 foreign staff and 546 local staff in Myanmar, there are 21 foreign staff and 68 local staff in Bangladesh.