We cannot afford to do nothing

MP for Peterborough Fiona Onasanya
MP for Peterborough Fiona Onasanya
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M y working week was truncated by an illness; while I’m pleased to report I’m on the road to recovery, I did require a visit to the hospital. I am grateful for the continued professionalism and care of NHS staff despite the enormous pressures they face. I am certain that once there is a change in government, there will be also be a change in approach which will yield better results for both patients and medical staff.

My illness unfortunately meant that I missed out on a community meeting regarding the situation in Burma (Myanmar). For those who aren’t familiar with this crisis: it is clear the Burmese government, which is run by an odd hybrid of military and civilian components, is forcing out the Rohingya people, a community that has traditionally lived within Burma’s Rakhine State. The current number of refugees is estimated by Action Aid UK to be in excess of 400,000; they have fled mainly to Bangladesh, a country which has suffered devastating floods in recent weeks, and thus can ill-afford the influx.

Britain is the former colonial power in the region and has a share of the responsibility for what modern Burma has become. I understand that junior ministers will be dispatched to the region as will more aid; this is welcome, but I will be pressing for greater clarity on timescales and how this aid will be spent as well as asking for stringent conditions to be added to our training and arms sales.

What is clear is that Britain doesn’t have the resources nor the inclination to join in any sort of military involvement. We also need to be mindful that one of the largest investors in Burma is China; it is unlikely they would welcome any foreign intervention. I also don’t believe that any mission would succeed without the United States; as President Trump apparently has difficulty recalling that “Namibia” and not “Nambia” is the name of an important sovereign nation, I have little faith the Americans will get involved.

What the West can do, however, is apply conditions and not just moral pressure. The civilian portion of Burma’s government is headed by Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi. She has not spoken up for the Rohingya, rather, her actions can be construed as complicity in the horror.

This is terrible. Few things are worse than a fallen hero: we have all too few icons that we can point to and tell our children, “here is someone to emulate”!

It once seemed that Suu Kyi’s quiet dignity and her principles were worthy of admiration. In the name of power politics, she has binned her years of virtue. I’ve heard various suggestions: first, she should be stripped of her Nobel Prize. I agree. I also have heard that she ought to be investigated by the International Criminal Court at the Hague: this too is worth trying. What we cannot afford to do is nothing.