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Executive Summary for September 20th

We review the latest issues related to refugees, including Aung San Suu Kyi’s response to the exodus of Rohingya, refugee officials at UNGA week calling out divisive politics, and the rejection of a study on refugee contributions from a Trump administration report.

Published on Sep. 20, 2017 Read time Approx. 3 minutes

Aung San Suu Kyi Plays Down Rohingya Exodus

Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi played down the mass exodus of Rohingya from the country in her first public remarks since the military crackdown began in late August.

Most people have not left Rakhine state and their villages are intact, she said in an address to the nation in the capital Naypyitaw, defending the crackdown after militant attacks on August 25.

The U.N. says 421,000 Rohingya have fled and human rights groups have released satellite imagery showing the large-scale destruction of communities.

Suu Kyi, under pressure to halt what the U.N. describes as “ethnic cleansing,” canceled plans to attend the U.N. General Assembly this week.

She acknowledged some people were fleeing and promised to allow them to return if they complete a “verification” process, while inviting diplomats to parts of Rakhine not affected by the clashes.

Chris Lewa, founder of the Arakan Project, an NGO that monitors the Rohingya refugee situation, pointed out that many Rohingya do not have documents – or homes to return to. “Many people would have lost their documents in the fires, and many children were already unregistered,” she told the Associated Press.

Amnesty International’s James Gomez called Suu Kyi’s speech “a mix of untruths and victim-blaming,” while Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh told the AP they had lost trust in Suu Kyi.

At U.N. General Assembly, Officials Attack Politics of Division

As world leaders took to the stage at the United Nations General Assembly, refugee officials in New York urged them not to exploit hostility toward refugees for political purposes.

“I think we need to be realistic that the refugee issue … is an issue that generates much hostility. And this hostility, this fear, this apprehension, is fueled by unscrupulous politicians,” said Filippo Grandi, head of the U.N. refugee agency, at the Concordia Summit. “[It] multiplies and translates itself into rejection.”

“Part of this is leadership, it’s what differentiates between emphasizing and looking at refugees as a security issue and a humanitarian issue; it takes leadership to say, we can do both,” said Canada’s refugee minister Ahmed Hussen, Devex reports.

In his speech to the U.N. General Assembly, U.S. president Donald Trump said he supports international efforts to send financial aid to countries hosting refugees rather than resettling them in Western countries.

Some refugee advocates warn this line of argument can be an excuse to leave refugees languishing in poor, unstable and repressive countries and institutionalizes the unequal global distribution of responsibility for refugees.

Study on Refugees’ Contributions Left Out of U.S. Government Report

A study showing refugees’ financial contributions to the U.S. was left out of the Trump administration’s final report on the costs of refugee resettlement, according to the New York Times.

The newspaper obtained the internal study by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which found that refugees contributed an estimated $269.1 billion to government tax revenues between 2005 and 2014.

“Overall, this report estimated that the net fiscal impact of refugees was positive over the 10-year period, at $63 billion,” it concluded.

The New York Times said Trump adviser Stephen Miller, a proponent of deep cuts to annual refugee totals, kept any mention of refugees’ financial contributions out of the report, according to sources familiar with the talks.

The final report, submitted September 5, concluded: “In an average year over the 10-year period, per-capita refugee costs for major HHS programs totaled $3,300.”

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