The House Foreign Affairs Committee met Thursday to discuss the crisis in Myanmar, where a half-million people have fled in just six weeks after a government military offensive.

The crisis is being described as an ongoing ethnic cleansing of minority Rohingya Muslims by Myanmar’s Buddhist government.

Republican committee chair Ed Royce of California said the United States has a duty to pay attention and react when atrocities are committed anywhere around the world:

“This is ethnic cleansing. The protection of human rights has been our nation’s top priority in Burma”

“And today that must include, also, the Muslim Rohingya people.”

Democrat Eliot Engel of New York took things a step forward, and suggested the U.S. increase leverage on Myanmar by undoing sanctions relief enacted by the Obama administration:

“It’s now legal for American companies to do business with Burmese military-owned companies. It seems to me, at a time when the Burmese military is waging this sort of violence against innocent people, we should reconsider our policy on targeted sanctions.”

The vast majority of those fleeing Myanmar have sought refuge in Bangladesh, and Engel said the U.S. should be making space for refugees as well:

“And while your country opens its doors, I consider it an embarrassment that the United States is closing ours.”

“This policy harms American leadership on the global stage. It undermines our ability to speak credibly about refugees, human rights or living up to basic humanitarian principles. It diminishes our standing in a part of the world where China is only too happy to fill the void.”

The U.S. has contributed just over $100 million dollars to deal with the Rohingya crisis, but officials from USAID report that a lack of access to conflict areas, not a lack of money is complicating relief efforts.


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