Washington, US (BBN) – The Trump administration threatened on Monday to take punitive actions against Myanmar unless it pulls back from its violent military campaign against Rohingya Muslims, expressing what it called “our gravest concern” over a crisis that has killed or displaced hundreds of thousands of people.
The State Department said it has already cut off travel waivers allowing current and former senior military leaders into the country and was considering further actions to impose economic measures against those responsible for atrocities against Myanmar’s ethnic minority, reports The New York Times.
The department said that all military units involved in operations against the Rohingya were ineligible for American aid.
“The government of Burma, including its armed forces, must take immediate action to ensure peace and security; implement commitments to ensure humanitarian access to communities in desperate need; facilitate the safe and voluntary return of those who have fled or been displaced in Rakhine State; and address the root causes of systematic discrimination against the Rohingya,” the department said in a statement issued Monday night, using the former name for Myanmar.
The American warning came as the United Nations said the Rohingya Muslims who have fled deadly persecution in Myanmar to Bangladesh would soon exceed one million.
That prediction loomed over an emergency donors conference in Geneva to raise money for aid groups struggling to help Bangladesh, one of the world’s poorest countries, deal with the crisis.
Doctors Without Borders, the medical charity, called the health conditions of the refugee encampments a “time bomb.”
More than 600,000 Rohingya Muslims have battled terror, exhaustion and hunger to reach safety in Bangladesh since Myanmar’s army began a campaign of what the United Nations has called ethnic cleansing in late August. The new arrivals joined more than 300,000 Rohingya who had escaped in recent years.
The number of people crossing the Naf River that divides the two countries has slowed to about 1,000 to 3,000 a day, down from a peak of 12,000 to 18,000 a day earlier in the crisis, said William Lacy Swing, the director of the International Organization for Migration, a part of the United Nations.
Still, he said, “even at that rate the numbers are expected to exceed a million shortly.”
More than 300,000 children are among the Rohingya refugees. Mark Lowcock, the United Nations humanitarian coordinator, told reporters that many were acutely malnourished.
States had previously committed around $116 million toward the $430 million sought by the United Nations for humanitarian aid over the next six months. Pledges received from governments on Monday raised the total to about $340 million, Mr. Lowcock said, expressing confidence that additional contributions would flow in coming days.
Even so, humanitarian agencies face enormous challenges delivering relief. Hundreds of thousands of refugees were crammed on a strip of land that lacked roads or infrastructure to support the delivery of aid.
With 210 hospital beds available to support more than 900,000 people living with little access to clean water, sanitation or medical care, the refugees’ situation is a “time bomb ticking toward a full-blown health crisis,” Joanne Liu, the international president of Doctors Without Borders told the meeting.
The United Nations food aid agency said that it had distributed food to 580,000 people since the crisis erupted, but that it had so far received less than one-third of the $77 million it needs to aid a million people over six months.
Queen Rania of Jordan, who visited some of the camps on Monday, expressed shock at the conditions. “It is unforgivable that this crisis is unfolding, largely ignored by the international community,” she said in a statement.