“Myanmar has been completely deaf to our requests,” says UN secretary general Antonio Guterres

All is not well.
All is not well.
Image: Reuters/Rafael Marchante
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The number of Rohingya refugees pouring into Bangladesh since Aug. 25 is nearing 400,000, and UN secretary general Antonio Guterres seems exasperated.

“We are very much active in relation to the Rohingya crisis but unfortunately it has not been easy because the government of Myanmar until now has been completely deaf to our requests,” Guterres said on Sept. 15. “We are troubled.”

Reportedly driven from their villages in Myanmar by arson and genocidal attacks, some 391,000 refugees, mostly children, have crossed the border, according to the UN’s most recent estimates. A week ago that figure stood at 270,000.

“In the last 24 hours alone, 10,000 people reportedly crossed into Bangladesh,” the secretary general’s spokesperson said yesterday (Sept. 15). “Combined with those who fled during the last round of violence in Rakhine State last October, it is estimated that some 40% of the total Rohingya population living in Rakhine state have now fled into Bangladesh.”

Myanmar’s state counsellor and de-facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize-winner, has been sharply criticized for turning a blind eye to ethnic violence. The Rohingya are a Muslim minority in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine state.

Despite mounting numbers of Rohingya refugees—and Guterres’s own direct involvement—the UN has been unable to get its act together and pressure Myanmar’s government to end the violence. The UN security council met on Sept. 13 to discuss the Rohingya crisis in a closed-door session, but to little effect. Riven by internal divisions, with China and Russia understood to be backing Myanmar, the security council issued a rebuke to Myanmar that even its own members concurred wasn’t strong enough.

Guterres, a Portugese diplomat and politician who took the corner office at the UN in January, has taken the unusual step of writing what he described to be the first official letter to the UN security council to seek its attention on an issue in nearly three decades. He has also spoken to Suu Kyi “several times” in recent weeks, he said at a press briefing on Sept. 13.