(This article originally appeared in the Times Red Box (paywall))
While the pressure from the international community has been intensifying on Myanmar, the border with Bangladesh remains a treacherous and congested route to safety for thousands of Rohingya fleeing for their lives.
As part of a week of social action with the Conservative Friends of Bangladesh, I have spent time with MPs and volunteers in and around the camps in Cox’s Bazar speaking to people who have been displaced from their burnt-out villages, aid workers and Bangladeshi government ministers.
One was a 60-year-old lady in Kutupalong refugee camp, holding her grandchild. Her son-in-law had been stabbed in front of them. Village children were beheaded. Other young boys had their genitals mutilated, suggesting that this was to stop the Rohingya population reproducing. In one of many health clinics at the camp, seeing an old man being treated for a deep gash, a young man was then brought in on a makeshift stretcher with blood pouring from his head. A family member told me that they were eating earlier that morning in Burma when they were attacked by men with axes and machetes. They escaped across the border and got treatment within hours at the camp.
Three days of solid rain have made the route across the border even more perilous. When we visited the Gundhum border area yesterday, 5,000 refugees were camping on a river bank in a designated “no man’s land” between Burma and Bangladesh, able to ford the river to get food. Arriving today after 24 hours of stormy weather, we saw a body being dragged out of the surging river which had risen by at least six feet.
A Bangladeshi soldier manning the border was frank, telling us how he had seen Burmese military digging there the previous week and drones being flown over the trees filming the refugees from the Burmese side. He had video of a lady who had lost her leg after stepping on a landmine four days before.
This is what the Bangladeshi authorities are having to deal with each day. Five thousand refugees are registering in Kutapalong every day. The Bangladeshi government has just allocated another 2,000 acres for the camp to expand. The area was so big, a lady with an ill four-year-old child was refusing to seek treatment because she was waiting for her husband who had gone to Cox’s Bazar to look for work. She feared that he would not be able to find them again in the sprawl.
There are 80,000 pregnant women in Cox’s Bazar and 13,000 orphans. Doctors said that they were treating mainly diarrhoea and malnutrition but saw several gunshot wounds. The authorities had taken to driving vans with loudhailers encouraging people to register so that they could get the help they needed. We saw makeshift camps that had become flooded. Even in the camps, 100 houses had been swept away in a landslide. As the forest is cut back further to provide more land for shelter, the bare earth is exposed to the heavy rain.
The authorities and NGOs are at breaking point but are working incredibly hard. They are reacting to a fast-moving situation with 420,000 refugees descending on a small, hard-pressed region. We saw the Union flag symbolising the contribution of UK Aid through the department for international development; the UN refugee agency, the International Organisation on Migrants; US Aid as well as support from Turkey and Saudi Arabia, all trying to cope with this man-made crisis exacerbated by terrible weather conditions.
Their worst-case scenario is that all 1.3 million Rohingya come over the border, the best is that the Burmese military stops its disproportionate response to attacks from the minority militant group ARSA and support those who have lived in Myanmar for generations. There may be some instances of civil uprising. If there is, no one with any value for life can think the answer is the mass eradication of a whole community through such barbaric methods.
Although the violence has escalated, this is not a new problem. Kutapalong has been a camp for displaced people for at least two decades. We did need to hear stronger words from Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma’s state counsellor, in her speech this week but she is also right that the country needs to be looked at as a whole.
Terrible crimes against humanity have occurred in nearly every state in Burma over the past seven decades and the peace process is having an effect in many parts. The country has just seen the first chink of light with a return to being part of the international community once more. Side-lining Ms Suu Kyi at this stage risks that light being extinguished and a return to full military rule with little reporting of the atrocities that will surely continue.
The commander in chief, General Min Aung Hlaing, is the man who can stop this today. I hope that Britain will take a lead on drawing international attention to him with a view to bringing this dark chapter of Burmese history to an end so that the Rohingya community can return to its safe homeland and Myanmar can continue its journey of development. Alongside this, we must remember the humanity and daily struggle of these victims on both sides of the border.
Residents of Balaam House took me on a tour of the building and its surrounding area to show me some of the issues they were concerned with.
Since the tragedy at Grenfell Tower, I have been working hard to reassure residents in high-rise buildings in Sutton by getting them answers to questions about their safety from fires, particularly in Chaucer and Balaam House at the north end of Sutton.
I was very concerned to learn of some of the problems that residents raised with me, particularly in relation to fire safety, but also about the maintenance and decision-making relating to the building and its surroundings more generally. I am particularly concerned about ensuring sufficient assessment of the needs of vulnerable residents living in Balaam House. Many reported to feeling unsafe, do not enjoy living there and feel as if their views and concerns have been forgotten by SHP and the Council.
I will be taking up their concerns with SHP and Sutton Council, as well as reaching out to every resident in Balaam House to ask them about their individual concerns.
I want to sincerely thank the residents that took me round for showing me the issues they were concerned with, and to everyone who stopped me to raise their concerns with me. I will continue to update residents as I find out more information.
I joined fellow MPs and dressed in pink to lend my support to Breast Cancer Now’s flagship fundraiser, wear it pink, which will see thousands of people across the UK adding a splash of pink to their outfits on Friday 20 October and raise vital funds for breast cancer research.
I’m encouraging constituents to take part and sign up to take part in the UK’s biggest pink fundraiser. The event, which takes place during October’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month, is in its 16th year and has raised over £30 million to date for Breast Cancer Now’s life-saving research.
Anyone can take part in wear it pink, which brings together schools, workplaces and communities. All you need to do is wear something pink, or hold a pink event at home, work or school, and make a donation to Breast Cancer Now. Whatever you do, you’re helping the charity achieve its aim that, if we all act now, by 2050 everyone who develops breast cancer will live.
Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the UK. One in eight women will face it in their lifetime, and every year around 11,500 women and 80 men lose their lives to the disease. This is why I’m urging everyone in Sutton, Cheam and Worcester Park to take part in wear it pink on Friday 20 October. It’s such a fun and easy way to support Breast Cancer Now’s vital research, and help stop breast cancer taking the lives of those we love.
Breast cancer affects so many people in Sutton, Cheam and Worcester Park, so as a Breast Cancer Now Ambassador I am proud to take part in wear it pink to raise awareness of the impact of the disease locally and to support for Breast Cancer Now’s vital research. I hope that everybody in Sutton, Cheam and Worcester Park will join me and wear it pink on Friday 20 October.
Also in attendance was Sky News presenter and former Olympic gymnast Jacquie Beltrao. Jacquie, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2013, is lending her support to wear it pink in the hope that thousands of people across the country will take part in the event.
Jacquie Beltrao said: “I’m very proud to support wear it pink; it’s a great excuse to dress up in pink and have some fun while raising money for a really important cause. I have had breast cancer myself and following my diagnosis and treatment have become incredibly passionate about raising awareness and funds for research.
“Wear it pink has raised over £30 million to date for Breast Cancer Now, which is incredible. The event raises funds for the charity’s world-class research, which will hopefully one day put a stop to this dreadful disease. That is why I’m asking people across the country join me, and the MPs who took part in Westminster, by adding a splash of pink to their outfits on wear it pink day and donating to Breast Cancer Now. I hope lots of people across the UK take part!”
Baroness Delyth Morgan, Chief Executive at Breast Cancer Now, said: “It is fantastic that so many MPs dressed up in pink at our Westminster wear it pink event and we are really grateful for all of the support and enthusiasm shown. We hope that by wearing pink, Paul Scully will encourage his constituents in Sutton, Cheam and Worcester Park to get involved in their local community and help us fund life-saving research this Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
“Wear it pink is a wonderful opportunity for communities across the UK to come together and have fun, whilst showing their support for everyone affected by breast cancer. Simply by wearing something pink and donating, you’re raising funds for life-saving research and helping Breast Cancer Now reach our goal that, by 2050, everyone who develops breast cancer will live.”
To take part in wear it pink this October, please visit wearitpink.org/2017 for further details, fundraising ideas and how to register for your free fundraising pack.
Complaints about traffic on Central Road often come up on the doorstep in Worcester Park and is something that has been a problem for residents for many years.
It is not uncommon to hear stories of it taking over an hour to drive from one end of Central Road to the other during peak times, and turning right from Green Lane onto Central Road towards Kingston and the A3 can take just as long.
It has been difficult to get a conversation started about how we might tackle this problem as it involved Sutton Council, Kingston Council, Transport for London and even Highways England all having an input. However, earlier this week I arranged to meet representatives from all of these organisations alongside our local Conservative London Assembly Member, Steve O’Connell, on Central Road so they could see the issue for themselves and start the conversation.
The meeting was useful in order to discuss issues such as the build up of traffic from South Lane and the Malden Junction onto the A3, but also the effect that the traffic and subsequent air pollution has on people’s health and putting people off shopping in Central Road.
There were plenty of ideas shared at the meeting and one resident even stopped as he drove by to plead that the junction of Green Lane and Central Road be turned into a roundabout rather than traffic lights, but what was made clear was that the Councils and TfL in particular need a lot more data before they can begin to look at potential solutions.
Luckily, X26 bus drivers are currently collating information for TfL that will be relevant to this issue and the Councils along with TfL have gone away to look at ways that they might be able to progress the data gathering exercise they need.
I will be sure to keep residents updated on the progress of these discussions. A solution won’t appear overnight, but I am pleased that we have finally got all the relevant parties in one place to start a conversation.
Sutton United Football Club (“Sutton United FC”), Sutton & Epsom Rugby Football Club (“Sutton & Epsom RFC”) and Sutton Cricket Club (“Sutton CC”) have together announced that they intend to form an alliance to collaborate within the local community (the “Sutton Sports Alliance”).
The Sutton Sports Alliance brings together three major sports clubs in the area, with the common aim of increasing participation and spectator numbers across football, rugby and cricket in the area, with a particular focus on younger people.
Sutton United FC, Sutton & Epsom RFC and Sutton Cricket Club have amassed more than 400 years of combined history. Each club boasts alumni of county and international representatives but importantly, each club is a family club with relevance to all generations.
The Sutton Sports Alliance is further commitment towards extending the reach more broadly to the local community and the clubs have agreed to jointly promote the following initiatives, and I am happy to support it in its endeavours.
For more information, view their press release here.
On Tuesday 7th September I have a public meeting in Sutton to discuss the future of local healthcare including both ensuring St Helier has a long future and the possibility of building a new specialist acute healthcare facility in Sutton.
Joining me will be Daniel Elkeles, Chief Executive of Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals NHS Trust who will outline the Trust’s vision for the coming years. We need you to get behind this. You can find out more information here.
Come along to the meeting, look at the video on the Trust’s website, Fill in one of our surveys. Please get involved and rather than just talk about saving St Helier, let’s do something together, speaking with one voice and go further.