UN seeks new Myanmar chief amid Rohingya crisis

Amid grindingly slow progress to address the Rohingya refugee crisis, the United Nations said it was trying to recruit a co-ordinator for Myanmar as acting representative Knut Ostby is due to quit the role.

Tensions continue between Myanmar and the UN over the humanitarian crisis with what remains of the Rohingya Muslim community in Rakhine State.

In 1982, the Burmese junta revoked the citizenship of the Rohingya people, leaving them stateless.

“The UN is currently recruiting a long-term UN resident co-ordinator in Myanmar,” said Stanislav Saling, a UN spokesman in Myanmar. “This position is one of 27 resident co-ordinator positions under recruitment.

“During his temporary assignment to Myanmar, Mr Ostby has enjoyed a close and productive relationship with his government counterparts from his arrival in 2017,” Saling told the media. “Mr Ostby will continue to support Myanmar in its complex and challenging transition in co-operation with national and international partners until further notice.”

The Norwegian envoy purportedly angered Myanmar’s government with a speech last November in Nay Pyi Daw by using the word “Rohingya”. Members of the persecuted community are normally referred to as “Bengali” in Myanmar, often followed by the word “terrorist”. Bengali implies the community members are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, while the Rohingya say they descend from Arab traders who arrived in the islolated region up to 1,000 years ago.

UN investigators have called for Myanmar’s generals to be prosecuted for genocide for crackdowns in Rakhine, Kachin and Shan states, which the military-controlled government dismisses as “false allegations”.

Myanmar in 2017 barred Korea’s Yanghee Lee, the UN’s special rapporteur on human rights, from entering the country, accusing her of bias.

Bangladesh says it will relocate more than 100,000 Rohingya refugees to Bhasan Char, a silt bank in the Bay of Bengal, to reduce pressure on the world’s largest refugee settlement in Cox’s Bazar, where nearly 1.2 million refugees are sheltered.

Bangladesh says Bhasan Char has newly secured embankments and cyclone shelters.
Lee visited in January and said: “There are a number of things that remain unknown to me even following my visit, chief among them being whether the island is truly habitable.

“Ill-planned relocation and relocations without the consent of the refugees concerned have the potential to create a new crisis,” she told the UN Human Rights Council.

One islander on neighbouring Hatiya told Human Rights Watch: “Part of the island is eroded by the monsoon every year. In that time, we never dare go to that island, so how will thousands of Rohingya live there?”


Rakhine State remains grindingly poor for both Buddhist and Muslim minorities, despite having considerable natural resources. Picture credit: Asean Economist