Commons Diary: Rosena Allin-Khan
Rosena Allin-Khan’s heart-breaking week in Bangladesh and Myanmar leaves her feeling the heavy weight of responsibility
This week has been one of the most eye opening and heart-breaking weeks of my entire life. As a Trauma and Emergency Doctor who has, over the years, worked as a Humanitarian Aid Doctor all over the world, I am used to treating victims of war. I have seen what people are capable of doing to each other.
And yet, my previous experiences didn’t fully prepare me for visiting the Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh. I know many of my parliamentary colleagues have also recently visited the camps to hear the testimony of the Rohingya Muslims who have fled torture and persecution in their homes in Myanmar and must feel the same.
Arriving at Ukhiya, directly on the border between Bangladesh and Myanmar, to meet some of the near one million refugees was a jarring experience. 24 hours previously, I had been asking a Topical Question to the Minister for Sport on another important issue: the Football Associations payoffs to footballers for their silence on sexual harassment and abuse. As an experience, those 24 hours alone underlined to me that we can never afford to just focus on one thing and, that while too often the focus of politics is its theatre, our responsibility and opportunity in the Chamber is to try to improve people’s lives in the real world.
I feel that responsibility with great urgency and a heavy weight now, because in Bangladesh I witnessed the result of a human capacity for evil that was more extreme than I could ever have imagined.
On my first day, I met refugees who recounted their harrowing journey and their experiences back in what they had called home. Refugee camps, as colleagues will know, are sadly nothing rare in recent history in many parts of the world, but what was most striking here was that 80% of those in the camps were women and children. Men have been tortured and murdered on a such a scale by the Myanmar military purge, along with the rape and mutilation of women and children, that I believe what is happening there is tantamount to genocide.
One man who managed to escape, described witnessing a night when the army arrived in his village. He recounts, through tears, them killing and mutilating all the men in a village of 3,000 people. The women were dragged by their hair and gang raped. As their children ran away, soldiers chased them, and, once captured, threw them alive into burning fires. For them, age was no barrier. They threw babies into the fire.
As my visit continued into a second day, I was moved and shocked as I joined MedGlobal to help in the medical effort. I treated people with a range of issues including malnourished women and children who I treated for diseases, burns, and injuries sustained during their escape from over the border.
But, in the horror of the environment, you also see the capacity people have for good. There is also a mammoth humanitarian food distribution programme underway and I joined Christian Aid as they handed out much need food and water to a desperate crowd.
I flew back to the UK after my three-day visit, absolutely exhausted both physically and emotionally, while knowing it was nothing like the trauma experienced by those who I had met and hundreds of thousands like them.
I have come back determined to ensure two things. First, that this situation is called for what it is – a genocide.
And secondly, that we in the Chamber live up to our responsibility to take every action we can to tangibly protect the Rohingya people from further suffering.
We in the UK have a proud history of leading the world in humanitarian causes – and this is another opportunity for us to prove that the human capacity for good will always trump that of evil. Given the tremendous support I’ve had from colleagues and the public since returning and the passionate commitment of many MPs, I don’t doubt we can do it, together.
Rosena Allin-Khan is Labour MP for Tooting