U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Mark Green's Participation in a Roundtable with Press

For Immediate Release

Friday, May 18, 2018
Office of Press Relations
Telephone: +1.202.712.4320 | Email: press@usaid.gov

 
American Center Rangoon
Rangoon, Burma
May 18, 2018

MR. McCLESKEY: Good afternoon, everyone. I know I've met most of you beforehand, but I'm Clayton McCleskey, Spokesperson for USAID, and just very appreciative of everybody making time to come out and meet with us this afternoon. As you know, we've just come out of Bangladesh. The Administrator was there earlier this week to visit Cox's Bazar, meet with Government of Bangladesh officials. And then we arrived here last night and were up at Naypyidaw this morning to meet with the State Counsellor.

And then, we'll be continuing meetings over the next coming days with civil society, religious leaders, students, women's organizations, really looking at the wide range of USAID programming here. So, I want to give the Administrator a chance to talk about that, talk about U.S. assistance and the current crisis, which you will have noticed we announced $44 million in new assistance to help the Rohingya and other vulnerable populations in Burma and Bangladesh earlier this week, so it's all part of that same piece.

So, we'll start with some opening comments from the Administrator, and then we'll turn it over to a colleague, Ambassador Mark Storella, and then we're happy to take questions, if that works for everyone. Sir, over to you.

ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: Thank you. Thank you, Clayton. Actually, I think you've given my opening remarks. This is great. I'll stop right here. [laughs] No. So, first off, it's good to be with all of you. It's great to be back here in Myanmar. This is my third visit to the country. I was last here on election day in 2015, and I was sharing with the team -- we had an all-hands meeting earlier -- that I remember on that election day and that election night not being able to get to sleep because the car horns were going as they were, everybody celebrating the aspirations and the exuberance of democratic victory.

I'm here on behalf of and at the request of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. I think it's fair to say that Secretary Pompeo is greatly interested in the region; also, in both Burma and Bangladesh, of course and the challenges that we all know about, particularly the Rohingya and other ethnic minorities. My first visit in Bangladesh, my first time to Bangladesh, I thought we had good sessions and learned a great deal. Good government meetings, but also getting to Cox's Bazar.

And it was terribly important that I had the chance to see Cox's Bazar, to see the camp, see no-man's land for myself with my own eyes, and also the chance to talk directly with the Rohingya, which I did. I spoke to families, and what they have gone through. I was also in Bangladesh was deeply moved by the everyday Bangladeshis who, when that terrible wave began, really showed remarkable compassion and openness.

I listened to a local military official who had only been on the job for a few months, and he said that he had heard a number of times people occasionally crossing back and forth, and then one day, he heard gunshots and saw people running and heard screams. And he suddenly realized this wasn't that, and he came out and -- spur of the moment, no direction from above -- decided to be compassionate and to allow people to cross. The everyday Bangladeshis who shared water, food, and shelter really, I think, speaking very, very well. So, that was a deeply moving experience for all of us.

From Bangladesh, obviously, we've come here to Burma. Had a good meeting, not just with the State Counsellor this morning, but with some of the officials who are involved in development in general and, in particular, the challenges facing Rakhine. And those were, I thought, constructive. We'll be continuing on in our conversations. I'm largely here, both in Bangladesh and Burma, to listen, to learn, to get direct input, to try to put together thoughts and observation and analysis for the Secretary of State so that it can help him as he formulates policy, and thinks through America's role.

I will be meeting with civil society here. I'm an old democracy guy, so you haven't visited a country if you haven't been meeting with civil society leaders. I'll be doing that wide range of civil society leaders, helping to understand the vibrancy of democracy and connectedness; also, conditions on the ground, what they hear and see. And so, that will be important. In addition, we'll be travelling to Rakhine. Again, very important to get a firsthand look, firsthand observations.

As Clayton mentioned, I'm also here because this is a very important country to USAID, and we have a very broad portfolio of work here, have for quite some time. Our food security work -- the State Counsellor pointed to our food security work and how important it was -- as well as our global health work. The progress they're making in the battle against tuberculosis is something that we're very proud of. And then, finally, I would just say our democracy work is important. As we take a look at our approach to helping the countries on the journey to self-reliance, which is how we describe our work in development, we believe that responsive governance, democratic governance, is a crucial factor, is a crucial part, a crucial ingredient in success.

Investments that we make in development are not sustainable over the long run if they aren't followed by, met with, proceed with responsive governance, the mandate of the people, and responsiveness to the people's needs. So, my journey is far from over. I'm learning each step of the way. I'm looking forward to my continuing discussions, learning as much as I can. I look forward to bringing it back with me to Washington. But everything that I have seen so far is quite moving, quite moving.

MR. McCLESKEY: Thank you, sir. I'd also like to introduce to you Deputy Assistant Secretary of State from the Bureau for Population, Refugees, and Migration Mark Storella, who's also served as an ambassador and has really been on the forefront of leading the State Department's efforts. The State Department and USAID work very closely when responding to crises like this. And we wanted to give Ambassador Storella a chance to talk a little bit about the State Department's role and what you've seen this week.

AMBASSADOR STORELLA: Okay, thank you very much. First, let me begin by saying that I'm delighted to be here. I haven't been in this country since 1986, and a lot has changed since then. And it's wonderful to be back here. I also want to underline, as Administrator Green has said, this delegation is here to collect information, to keep our eyes open, to do assessments on the challenges that we're facing.

In terms of its magnitude and speed, the Rakhine crisis is one of the most important humanitarian crises to unfold over the last three decades, and we want to focus on ways to find solutions to that crisis. While we've been here, we note that there are some things that have happened that could be opportunities to build on, to work towards a solution. The Annan Commission Report contains many valuable recommendations, and it is important that both the governments of Bangladesh and Myanmar have endorsed that report and its 88 recommendations.

The State Counsellor herself publicly welcomed the refugees to return home. There's been engagement ongoing between Bangladesh and Myanmar on the specific question of the eventual return of refugees, with three separate agreements to try to work on that issue. And there's also progress that has been made on a memorandum of understanding between the government of Myanmar and the United Nations, represented by the U.N. Refugee Agency, UNHCR, and the U.N. Development Agency, UNDP.

Still, as Administrator Green made clear, while we were in Cox's Bazar, we saw that there are deep wounds that remain; that people who are there are afraid, that they are deeply concerned about what they would face if and when they come back. And they're very much focused on the questions of their personal security and protections for their rights.

So, one of the things that we've been doing here is to look at what elements can be taken to ensure that steps occur that put an end to the crisis in Rakhine State all together. But also, what can be done to ensure conditions inside Rakhine State that will permit returns? In the world of refugee affairs, we always say that returns should be voluntary, safe, and dignified. To be voluntary, they must be well-informed; that means there must be humanitarian access, and preferably media access as well, so that people have a good idea of what the conditions really are on the ground. Safe returns mean actual guarantees. They have to involve the security services and those who are able to ensure the safety of people who want to return. And dignity requires steps being taken to ensure the rights of the individuals who want to come back.

When you look at refugee crises around the world, it is often the case that the refugees are looking inside the country to see what's going on before they make their decisions. That means the treatment of those members of this community who are still here will be very important for refugees in making that kind of voluntary decision about what to do and whether or not to come back.

Could I say that in our discussions today with representatives of the Myanmar Government, including the State Counsellor, we did discuss the question of returns and what kinds of things can be done to support concrete action that could eventually lead to voluntary safe and dignified returns. Thank you.

MR. McCLESKEY: And with that, we'll open it up to questions. Who would like to go first?

QUESTION: I'm Antoni Slodkowski from Reuters. So, immediately, the first question, sort of broadly -- you mentioned that the question of returns was raised at the meeting today, and so I was wondering whether you could perhaps elaborate a little bit more on how the meeting went. And it seems like the Myanmar side continues to -- you know, the public statements are very much, you know, along the lines of "We're ready; we've been waiting; there's some problems with some forms," and they basically blame Bangladesh. While at the same time we know that the negotiations over at a few of the U.N. agencies are basically stalling.

So, could you talk a little bit more to, you know, sort of that -- basically, there's a stalemate right now, and there doesn't seem to be an agreement as to what the problem with lack of returnees is. So, before we even discuss the specific elements and what can be done or not, there seems to be some sort of very kind of high-level lack of understanding as to what the facts on the ground are.

ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: Well, it seems to me that the easiest way to deal with what you're laying out -- your number of forms flying around and terms flying around -- are concrete actions, concrete steps. We have -- a number of Rohingya and other minorities, ethnic minorities, here in this country, and how they are treated and the conditions under which they reside and live and work and have access to education. It seems to me that's one of the clearest ways to send a signal about the sincerity and commitment of forward terms.

Concrete actions I think are important because they are a clear demonstration of policy. To me, it's much more important than discussions and talk and what we see with respect in the media. I think concrete actions are the best way to demonstrate those things.

MR. McCLESKEY: Oliver, you have a question.

QUESTION: Yes. So, what sort of -- were some of those concrete actions look like? And in continuation of that, what -- how seriously do you think the government is taking the calls for independent investigation and culpability for the extended military crackdown up there?

ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: I'm not sure I'm qualified to answer the latter as a short-term visitor here at this time.

QUESTION: Did that come up in any of the conversations, the need for investigation?

ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: Again, I'll defer to my State counterparts in that. What I will say is we talked about what we have encountered with our conversations with Rohingya in Bangladesh and the tremendous trauma that they went through, the suffering that they went through, the obvious pain. Meeting young people who lost their parents -- you know, they're heartrending stories.

And what it would take for those people to feel comfortable enough to be able to return. I think those are conditions of personal security, as Mark Storella mentioned, access to livelihood, a sense that they will be able to function and live and have access to security and economic power opportunity. I don't think that there's a mystery about those things. I don't know if you --

AMBASSADOR STORELLA: Yeah, I might just add that I think all of us understand -- and this gets right back to the Kofi Annan Advisory Commission's recommendations, of course, and I don't -- none of us are expecting that suddenly all those are implemented, but concrete steps. And it could be -- we don't want to say, "Do X and Y." It could be, you know, choosing from among them. There's many different things that could be done that would begin to perhaps build some trust and confidence. So, that's what we talked about.

In terms of an investigation, we've said consistently for -- since the beginning of this crisis -- that it's important not only for the international community but for the people of Myanmar to, A, know the facts of what happened, and, B, for there to be some kind of investigation and effort at accountability for the benefit of Myanmar's own democratic transition. And so, we've continued to make that point indubitably. I don't want to characterize the government's views on it. I -- they're certainly aware of this and, as far as I know, you know, having conversations about it. But I don't want to predict where they end up.

MR. McCLESKEY: Richard from AFP.

QUESTION: Thank you. Most people seem to accept that there are not going to be any significant numbers of refugee returns anytime soon. And although it's understandable with that, organizations -- aid organizations or diplomats are loathe to sort of go down that path too much outwardly in public. Is it something that the U.S. is addressing, that USAID is addressing? And certainly are there are discussions going on behind the scenes about the fact that the status quo of the moment is likely to become a long-term prospect, and therefore we need to work around that, as in the -- yeah, it was mentioned in the ICG report this week, for example?

ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: Well, what I can say, is with a recent announcement of assistance, we are seeking to provide humanitarian support both to the refugees themselves and the communities that are hosting them, both in Burma and in Bangladesh, and I think that's a recognition that this won't change overnight. We are also -- all of us -- very much aware that the monsoons are approaching, and so we are in discussions with people in Cox's Bazar, and with the Government of Bangladesh about the importance of providing for the safety and security of displaced families during the predictable rains that are coming. So, to that extent, we certainly are all having discussions about what it takes to provide for the safety and security of these families.

QUESTIONS: But are we talking about sort of long term in terms of with years to come, the fact that the refugee camps in Cox's might become another sort of [inaudible] from, you know, sort -- [inaudible]

ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: At this point, we're focusing on immediate needs, especially with the impending monsoons that are coming. That is our highest priority. But again, I think part of the reason that we're here in Bangladesh and Burma is to gather information, to have conversations that we can bring back to the Secretary of State and begin to develop ideas about a longer term. Not longer term in the sense of predicting what will be, but trying to help bring whatever role we can play, a constructive resolution to the conflict and to the crisis.

MR. McCLESKEY: Yes, VOA?

QUESTION: Yes. I'm honored to see you again in this capacity. Last time, I interviewed you the day after the election in the hotel.

ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: We were all smiling.

QUESTION: Yes. Okay, well, I bet you must have asked those who do -- I mean, the authorities -- to give media access freely in this conflict area, but our concern is security, because we have had bad experiences, because we participated in a media tour. It's a well-organized tour with security forces. And one of my reporters interviewed one village head man from [inaudible] village. And that the village head man was killed next day, slit throat. So, we had this kind of very bad experience. So, if we go -- even if the government allows us to go freely in the area, who is going to take care of our security and safety? This is our concern for the free media access. So, and also not only for the media, also for the locals. So, both sides, you know, we have concerns. That's why -- have you had a chance to talk about this kind of media access?

ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: I think our position is very clear. We believe in absolute access by the media to those areas, secure access. Again, as you know, I'm a democracy guy. I believe in freedom of speech. I believe in the emergence of an independent media. I believe in the right of the people to know -- I think that the ability to report on what you see and what you hear is a fundamental aspect of democracy.

This is a country here, Myanmar, that has made a remarkable democratic journey. It has a ways to go. By the government's own admission, we believe a stronger media, with open access to all areas, only strengthens that democracy. Discussion is important. Debate is important. All of those things require access by the media.

AMBASSADOR MARCIEL: Could I add to that? That when we look at the situation in Rakhine State, and a real humanitarian crisis, we have emphasized all along, as many have, that humanitarian access is absolutely essential in order for the refugees themselves to know what's going on, and for the international community to be able to participate in understanding whether or not there really are conditions that will make it possible for voluntary, safe, and dignified returns.

We also emphasize that media access remains extremely important as well so that you have independent observers who can communicate the story to a wider world. The Administrator has emphasized the need for concrete steps, and we've seen some increase in humanitarian access, access by the Red Cross movement, the World Food Program, some NGOs. We'd like to see more, and we'd like to see more opportunities for media access as well, and for that to be done safely.

MR. McCLESKEY: Yes, Antoni?

QUESTION: So I just wanted to ask about -- sort of I just wanted to kind of focus a little bit more on the specifics of the USAID program in Myanmar, and sort of what sort of -- obviously, we've spent a lot of time discussing Rakhine, but you have a massive program across the country in many places, like you said, working on TV, working on other issues. So -- and obviously I think there is a concern that because of the crisis and the sort of need to show whatever difference of punitive measures against Myanmar that a lot of the people who are not guilty of what ever happened in Rakhine and were impacted.

So, what is on the table, and can you talk a little more specifically about the programs you're looking at, whether you're looking to cut, whether you're looking to increase, and sort of where can we see the results of today taking temperature, I suppose? But sort of further down the line, you know, what's the -- what is actually going to -- you know, what is actually going to be the outcome of this visit, and what specifically you're looking at?

ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: It's a loaded, long question. I have next to me the Mission Director. I'll say this. First, as a general matter, and in particular with respect to this country, I believe in American engagement. I believe in the importance of our development tools. I believe in the importance of our humanitarian assistance.

When challenges are there, I don't believe they get better by America pulling back. I very much believe in what we do. We adjust tools to try to strengthen our work, based upon conditions that we see and discussions with our host country. That's part of democratic governance in strengthening democracy, but I believe strongly in the work that we do, and Teresa can talk about it more broadly.

We do. We have a broad, deep portfolio here. We've had for some time. This is a young democracy. This is a country that I think has tremendous potential. There is an impediment to that work, and that is the crisis that we're talking about. But we believe that the long-term future -- we can address this impediment. We believe there are so many things that can be done. We're eager to be able to work on those projects, and we have spoken directly with the government about that. We want to do more here. We want to do good things. We want to do big things.

MR. McCLESKEY: I was remiss in not noting that we do have our Mission Director Teresa, and, of course, Gloria Steele who's head of the Asia Bureau at USAID. Do either of you have anything you would want to add to that?

MS. McGHIE: Sure, I could just add that USAID's commitment has always been to the people of Myanmar. So, it wasn't about a specific election or a specific government. I mean, that was part of the transition that we've invested in for many, many years, including media strengthening, which we've been doing since the early 2000s. We weren't allowed to do it in the country. We did it outside the country.

So, everything that we're looking at is engaging the people. And that includes addressing some of the problems that we see, both in Rakhine and in other parts of the country, which are the tensions between different ethnic communities. So, we work a lot on communal harmony and building -- changing attitudes over time so that different ethnic communities can live together.

We also firmly believe that if people don't see an economic benefit from a democratic transition then there won't be continued support for that transition. So, we've invested a lot in helping rural communities, which is 75 percent of the population, improve their incomes. A lot of that is small, local farmers. We work on food security, agriculture. We support private value chains. It's coffee. It's melons. It's soy, ginger, and rice. And that's not just helping farmers produce more or produce better product. It's building markets and helping them connect with markets. And a lot of that is actually about helping Burma -- or Myanmar -- continue its opening, continuing to open to the rest of the world.

We've invested a lot in improving the health of the people of Myanmar. The Administrator mentioned TB and the progress that has been made on multi-drug-resistant TB, but also Myanmar has made great strides in reducing malaria and, in fact, has plans to eliminate malaria by 2030, and that's on track, that's likely to happen.

So, there are a lot of different areas where we continue to support the transition, not necessarily to a specific type of government or having specific people in government, but that the people are participating.

ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: And Teresa makes a very good point that I think sometimes we at USAID are guilty of not pointing out: our money almost entirely goes to civil society groups. This is not money to the government. This is money to the people of this country and the groups that advance their interests and causes. And if so, we look to support the rise of people in this country. That is our ultimate priority.

QUESTION: By the way, the $44 million is for the Bangladesh or Myanmar assistance --

ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: Both.

QUESTION: They have to split or what?

ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: I don't how the numbers break down.

MR. McCLESKEY: I'll give you the exact detail but it's about $30 million that's going to support the World Food Program, primarily in Bangladesh. But there's also funding around seven million for -- about seven million for assistance here within Myanmar.

MS. McGHIE: Can I just point out that that's not just for Rakhine. That's also for [inaudible]?

MR. McCLESKEY: Fourteen million. Thirty for Bangladesh, and fourteen for Myanmar.

AMBASSADOR STORELLA: Could I add that with Administrator Green's announcement about three days ago the total commitment by the United States Government since 2017 to deal with the Rakhine crisis and the question of refugees inside Burma and Bangladesh in the region is now nearly $300 million. So, our investments are extremely important in what is seen in the United States, including on Capitol Hill and our Congress, as a very high priority.

QUESTION: That's not just for people who have left Rakhine?

AMBASSADOR STORELLA: That's right. That's inside Myanmar, as well in different parts.

MR. McCLESKEY: An eye on the clock here, so we'll need to wrap this portion of this up now. So, thank you all for the questions.

Last updated: May 18, 2018

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