The Prime Minister of Bangladesh has called for stronger international action to help Rohingya refugees in the country to return to neighbouring Myanmar.
Bangladesh is hosting more than one million Rohingya, a mainly Muslim minority community who are stateless, most of whom fled following a wave of violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine state in 2017.
“More than three years have elapsed. Regrettably, not a single Rohingya could be repatriated. The problem was created by Myanmar, and its solution must be found in Myanmar. I request the international community to play a more effective role for a solution to the crisis,” Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said in a pre-recorded speech to the UN General Assembly on Saturday.
The annual gathering of Heads of State and Government in the iconic General Assembly Hall is being held virtually this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Stimulus packages and safety nets
Like many of her counterparts, Prime Minister Hasina outlined steps her Government has taken to address the crisis and mitigate its impacts.
Although COVID-19 has impeded economic progress in Bangladesh, she said the authorities implemented initiatives which prioritized both lives and livelihoods, such as introducing some $13.25 billion in stimulus packages for industries, and expanding social safety nets.
“We have readily arranged food and other assistance for people who are rendered jobless due to COVID-19. This arrangement has benefitted nearly 10 million families. We have provided scholarships to four million students. We have also given cash incentives to five million people, including farmers, workers and labourers affected by the pandemic,” she said.
“To ensure healthcare of the common people, we are providing 30 types of medicines free of cost through 18,000 community clinics and union health centres," she continued, noting that overall, the pandemic's impact has been minimal due to the various interventions.
Feeding the nation
Meanwhile, food production has been the top priority during the pandemic, she said. Special arrangements have been made to keep industries up and running, among other measures, all in compliance with health guidelines.
“Consequently, our health sector and economy are still comparatively at a better shape. Despite the COVID-induced stagnation in global industrial outputs, our GDP has registered a growth rate of 5.24 per cent, which is expected to be seven per cent in the next fiscal year.”
A vaccine for all
Prime Minister Hasina said COVID-19 has been a stark reminder “that our fates are interconnected and that no one is secured.”
She expressed hope that any vaccine against the disease will be readily available to anyone, anywhere who needs it. Bangladesh could also contribute to the process, she added.
“It is imperative to treat the vaccine as a ‘global public good.’ We need to ensure the timely availability of this vaccine to all countries at the same time,” she told world leaders.
“If we are provided with the technical know-how and patents, the pharmaceutical industry of Bangladesh has the capacity to go for vaccine production in mass-scale.”