As 145 million people, are in immediate need humanitarian assistance around the world the United Nations has appealed this year for the record funding of $24 billion to meet the needs.
United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Mark Lowcock told Al Arabiya’s New York Bureau Chief, Tal al Haj, that the gap between the needs and the response is growing.
“The response, as of late October, is also a record response. 11 or 12 billion dollars,” he said. “So what we in United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) need to do, is the same thing that the whole of the humanitarian system needs to do, seek greater support and help from everybody”.
Lowcock applauded the solidarity from Muslims across the world and the Middle East in supporting the persecuted Rohingya Muslims of Myanmar.
“I have had detailed discussions with my friend and colleague, Dr Abdullah al-Rabeeah, who runs the King Salman Relief Center, Saudi Arabia being an important contributor to these relief efforts. But there are many other examples of philanthropic organizations, as well as governments and individuals in the Middle East and Muslim countries contributing, as well as western countries, and western families and western individuals,” he said.
Lowcroft said that in Myanmar he heard stories directly from refugees who saw family memebrs being shot in front of their eyes, raped, and subjected to sexual violence.
“These are atrocious crimes that are being committed, and as I say I’ve worked on these issues a long time, but this is very, very shocking what’s happened. And there needs to be redress and accountability, but there also needs to be help for these people, arriving with nothing, destitute, traumatized in Bangladesh,” he said..
Below is the Q and A interview aired on Fridat October 27 on 'Diplomatic Avenue' with Mark Lowcock, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and UN Emergency Relief Coordinator.
In your experience how do you equate the ongoing Rohingya crisis in Myanmar?
So, i have been working on these humanitarian crisis pretty much the whole of my adult life, since i was a young man, my first job 1984-1985 was dealing with the famine in Ethiopia, I’ve seen wars and floods, and typhoons , and hurricanes, and volcanoes, and every manner of natural and man-made disaster.
There is something very heart wrenching and tragic about the Rohingya story. A community of people, who for generations, have been persecuted and harassed, where they come from, the poorest members of their national society, now forced to flee, at gunpoint with their villages burnt behind them, i met people suffering deep trauma , but also people arriving with nothing.
So this is not just the fastest growing refugee crisis in the world, it is one of the most heart rending. When you listen to people’s stories, even somebody who’s been doing this difficult challenging work for as long as i have, you cannot fail to be moved by the human impact.
Your visit to Bangladesh, was in October, this month, yet the international organization for migration is saying that more than 2,000 Rohingya refugees everyday pass the border area, into safety, into Bangladesh. Is there an end in sight?
As we speak today, the number of people who have fled since 25 august, approaches 600,000. No one knows exactly how many Rohingya are left in Myanmar, but it runs into the hundreds of thousands.
Originally, people were forced out fleeing, as their villages were burnt behind them, we have then seen a phase in which people on the verge of starvation , have been crossing the border. Now what we’re hearing from inside Rakhine State is enormous fear and intimidation, because the remaining Rohingya are often in communities much bigger than theirs, who are not of their background. So people feel intimidated in larger populations who are antagonistic towards them.
So I am afraid, I cannot say, as i sit in your studio today, I cannot say that i can see an end to this in sight. What needs to happen is a cessation of the violence, there needs to be unhindered humanitarian access, for all the humanitarian agencies, and then there needs to be a proper, credible process, for which the government of Myanmar has to take responsibility to put in place the conditions for people to be able, if they want to, when it's safe, when it’s voluntary, to go back.
Why would we put faith in the government of Myanmar when they are the perpetrators of such atrocities, of more or less, ethnic cleansing, of getting these people to leave, why would we have faith in them to ensure safe return to their homes?
It is their responsibility to put in place the conditions that we do believe will enable people to be treated with dignity and respect, as and when they want to go back -
And safety ?
And safety yeah. So it's the responsibility of the government of Myanmar to do that. I sat under shelters, under plastic sheeting with dozens of women, children, men, who have fled, there are no, under no circumstances should they be asked to return unless they want to. So, they need to be persuaded by the actions of the authorities in Myanmar that they will be accepted and that they can resume a decent life. Because they are entitled to resume a life in the place they come.
I’m sure you talked to many of them while you were there, you took the chance to take your time and listen to their stories, and I’m sure you believe it’s going to be difficult after what they’ve seen and the crimes committed against them, to convince them to go back. When you left, how did that affect you as a human being?
Well i heard stories, sitting under a plastic sheeting, for example with 20 a group of 24 women, i heard stories, from them, directly from them, of their husbands, fathers, and sons, being shot in front of their eyes, of them being raped, and subject to the most brutal atrocious sexual violence, of being forced to flee as their villages burnt behind them.
These are atrocious crimes that are being committed, and as I say I’ve worked on these issues a long time, but this is very, very shocking what’s happened. And there needs to be redress and accountability, but there also needs to be help for these people, arriving with nothing, destitute, traumatized in Bangladesh.
And I want to pay tribute to the government of Bangladesh, to the people of Bangladesh, to the NGOs of Bangladesh, to all Bangladesh’s institutions, for the welcome they’ve offered, the solidarity they showed. It is incumbent on the wider international community, to show equal generosity, to support Bangladesh, which is not a rich country, the area where the refugees have arrived is congested and itself needs support for development. The wider world must help Bangladesh to reinforce their generosity and welcoming the Rohingya refugees.
Most of the refugees, they are here, they are women and children. You spoke to the women; did you speak to any children?
I did speak to children in some tragic circumstances, i met an 11 year old boy, in a UNICEF therapeutic healing center, cradling in his arms, this little 11 year old boy, cradling his two and a half year old sister. A little girl suffering from severe acute malnutrition.
The boy’s mother wither her four children started a journey of 9 days to flee from Myanmar and reach Bangladesh, the mother tragically died on the journey. This little boy, 11 years old, is now in sole charge of his 4 younger brothers and sisters. There are many stories like that; that you hear if you sit with these people and listen to what’s happened to them.
The UN is now appealing for 434 million dollars, to cover the needs of potentially up to 1.2 million people between September and February. As of the 20th of October the un had received 117 million dollars, so that’s a significant increase in what you, you- saw earlier. On the 23rd of October, the un has held a pledging conference in Geneva to raise more money and we are encouraged by the response from generous donors and generous NGOs and individuals around the world.
But the needs of these people are acute and substantial and we still need to raise more funds to support them. It would be a double tragedy; a repeated catastrophe if these people having been forced out are not now well looked after. The conditions they are living in are very very difficult, there’s a risk of disease, the facilities are poor, they need everything. So it really is incumbent on the wider world to show maximum generosity and to respond as fully as possible to the UN appeal.
Do you see the Arab and Muslim countries forthcoming in their donations towards the Rohingya in Bangladesh?
I know there’s a lot of solidarity between, from Muslims across the world, including across the whole of the middle east, and i have spoken to lots of my counterparts and officials in Arab countries and Muslim countries.
Our event on the 23rd of October, co-hosted by the government of Kuwait, for example. I have had detailed discussions with my friend and colleague, dr. Abdullah al-Rabeeah, who runs the king Salman relief center, Saudi Arabia being an important contributor to these relief efforts. But there are many other examples of philanthropic organizations, as well as governments and individuals in the middle east and Muslim countries contributing, as well as western countries, and western families and western individuals -
And the NGOs?
And the NGOs play a crucial role.
How much of your aid is reaching, are you reaching, 50%, 60%, 70%, is there much more to be done by the UN?
We are reaching a very high proportion of people with food, we are reaching a very high proportion of people with shelter, we got a lot more to do to put in place appropriate sanitation facilities. We need to do more to deal with peoples’ healthcare needs. We have done a big vaccination program against measles, against polio, against cholera, but there’s more to do on the health side.
We need to do a lot more to deal with the fact that people are very traumatized and we need to be aware of the risk of gender based violence in the camps, which are very congested, and protect the people. And then especially for the children, we need to rebuild hope. So, education services are one of the things we need to scale up in the camps as well.
So there is a lot left to be done?
There is an enormous amount left to be done. Funding is the binding constraint. The more generous our funders are, the more we can do to help people.
We understand there are talks now being held between the government of Bangladesh, and the government of Myanmar on organized repatriations of refugees, how do you view that?
The UN would like the United Nations High Commissioner For Refugees to be very closely involved in all arrangements, for the registration of refugees, and anything that gets in, that gets into allowing these people, when they want to, when it is safe, when the conditions are right, to go back to their homes.
We of course welcome the initial conversations that have taken place, but the onus is really on the authorities in Myanmar to put right what they’re responsible for, and there is a lot of work that they need to do to reassure the Rohingya that there will be appropriate facilities, and that they can go back to their homes, and that they can resume their lives in dignity and safety and in the way that you and i, and everyone watching your program would like to be able to live our lives.
You said in the beginning of this interview that there are hundreds of thousands, still living, the Rohingya Muslims, in Myanmar. How is the Myanmar government dealing with your requests that you presented to them for unhindered, unfettered, access to these people?
We don’t have the access we want, we’ve been raising this repeatedly for many weeks, every now and then, we’re allowed to go and look at one or two things, but that is not, that is not free, unfettered, unhindered access.
One or two aid organizations, like the international committee for the Red Cross, do have a bit more access, and we welcome that. But they say to us, they want the un to come back in as well, to play the normal role the un plays in all crises of this sort, everywhere in the world.
I would like to ask you about this position you have taken, the humanitarian chief of the united nations, what do you see as the biggest challenges for ocha and the role of your office, the humanitarian crises around the world, and how can you do more with the same resources?
Well, there’s something like a 145 million people, as of today, right now, who need humanitarian assistance around the world. The un has appealed, in 2017, for record funding, $24 billion dollars to meet the needs of these people.
The response, as of late October, is also a record response. 11 or 12 billion dollars, but the gap between the needs and the response is growing. So what we in OCHA need to do, is the same thing that the whole of the humanitarian system needs to do, seek greater support and help from everybody.
But we also have to make every euro or dollar, or any penny, however we receive the money, work as hard as possible and as far as we’re concerned in OCHA, my colleagues, more than 2,000 of them around the world, working in the toughest places, right in the midst of, not just regular humanitarian crisis, but conflicts, and warzones and so on, they are a brilliant, passionate, committed group of people and we’re trying to build an organization in which all of these people, can everyday, do their best work.