VOA Interview: UN Chief Antonio Guterres
February 14, 2018 6:00 PM
February 14, 2018
KUWAIT CITY, KUWAIT —
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is in Kuwait this week for an international conference aimed at raising funds for Iraqi reconstruction. He spoke Wednesday with VOA’s United Nations Correspondent Margaret Besheer at Al-Bayan Palace, Kuwait City, about the effort to rebuild Iraq, ongoing conflicts in Syria and Yemen, the situation in North Korea, and concerns over ethnic cleansing in Myanmar. The transcript has been edited for clarity.
Myanmar and the Rohingya
Q: Finally, Secretary-General, I wanted to ask you about Myanmar. On Tuesday, your refugee chief Filippo Grandi, he told the Security Council that the conditions are not conducive for the voluntary return of the Rohingya refugees because the causes of their flight have not been properly addressed yet. So are you, have you been in touch, are you disappointed in Aung San Suu Kyi? She’s been highly criticized for her handling of this. Have you spoken with her recently, and are you still planning to name a special adviser?
Guterres: Yes, the special adviser will be soon appointed. But the central question that Filippos Grandi raised is the following: We considered that it is essential to recognize the right of return, voluntary in safety and dignity, of those that fled and returned to their place of origin not to be put in camps. But for that to be possible, a massive investment is necessary. Not only in the reconstruction of the villages destroyed in the field, but in the reconciliation for people not to be afraid to come back. And the guarantees that the forces that were expelling them will not be retaliating against them again. And this is the investment that the government of Myanmar has not yet made. And before that investment is made, it will be very difficult to have conditions for that massive voluntary repatriation as we all wish to happen. There is still a long way to go, and I think the government of Myanmar needs to understand that they cannot procrastinate things, that they need to engage seriously in creating the conditions for the return to be possible. Unfortunately, that has not yet been done with the determination and the courage, because we know that large part of the population is against the Rohingya’s, we know that. But that is why politicians need courage, is to overcome those differences because the situation of the Rohingya population in Myanmar was absolutely unacceptable.
Q: But those sorts of reconciliation talks and unity talks and things like that, can — they are such drawn out processes, they can take years. So, what are these Rohingya that are in Bangladesh going to do in the meantime?
Guterres: There are many things that can be done much more quickly than years. There’s physical reconstruction and there are a number of things that can be done both to support the Rohingyas and the local community. And doing so, people understand that they have also something to gain with this process. So, reconciliation is not just a matter of gestures, it is a matter of investments made for people to understand that living together, they can live better.
Q: So, realistically, how long do you think before the Rohingyas can start going back?
Guterres: I think that, in small numbers, there are things that can be done relatively quickly. A process of return, a large group of refugees — and we have done several processes of return … in different parts of the world as High Commissioner for Refugees — a process of return can take sometimes two, three years to be properly organized. But it requires planning, it requires investment, it requires a very serious effort in order to make it successful. If not, we risk to have a situation in which return takes place and then people flee again. And unfortunately, that’s, for instance, what we see in South Sudan. I helped as UNHCR, together will all my colleagues, and lots of elements of the civil society, we have helped about half a million people return to South Sudan and now there are more than one million refugees that fled South Sudan again. This is what we don’t want to happen with the Rohingyas in Bangladesh.