In May 2018, I concluded my first visit to Bangladesh in my official capacity as Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). I want to express my appreciation for the warm hospitality I received from both the government and the people of your beautiful country.
USAID has been working in partnership with the people of Bangladesh since your independence in 1971. The enduring strength of our longstanding relationship has made possible a great deal of productive work together, and the resilience and perseverance of Bangladeshis have led to some truly impressive development results.
Maternal and child mortality rates have declined by more than 60 per cent; the production of rice has tripled; and growth in gross domestic product has averaged more than six percent annually for over a decade. Bangladesh has fulfilled the criteria to initiate graduation from the United Nations’ “Least Developed Country” status, and has set its sights on becoming a middle-income country within the next three years.
The US government is proud to have played a role in such extraordinary success through our development and other assistance programmes.
We are also proud to share values of democracy, economic freedom, and respect for individual rights. Both our countries were born of the struggle and sacrifice for freedom.
Having served in the US Congress for eight years, I can attest that democracy can be messy and cumbersome. However, it is imperative for democracies to foster robust debate, and preserve the freedom of citizens, civil society, and the press to exchange their views freely.
The United States supports Bangladesh’s commitment, rooted in the values of the liberation struggle, to an open, democratic process that gives all citizens-including those of minority groups-a peaceful voice in their future. I hope that all Bangladeshis will be able to participate freely in the upcoming elections, and that the elections will be impartial and inclusive. It is also important that all peaceful political parties and their leaders can campaign freely in the run-up to the elections.
Finally, I want to thank the citizens of Bangladesh for the great compassion you have shown to Rohingya who have fled Burma. I returned from Cox’s Bazar deeply impressed by your government’s partnership with the international community in meeting the life-saving humanitarian needs of the nearly 700,000 men, women, and children who have arrived since August 2017, while also taking care of the surrounding host communities. Our joint efforts will remain critical in ensuring the well-being of both populations throughout the monsoon and cyclone seasons and beyond.
In my discussions with government officials and civil society, I reiterated the appreciation of the United States for Bangladesh’s commitment to support the fully voluntary, dignified, and safe repatriation of Rohingya refugees based on informed consent. I raised the same issue when I was in Myanmar, and repeated what the Rohingya in the camps in Cox’s Bazar told me about what is necessary for them to consider returning.
Thank you again for your hospitality. With Bangladesh’s leadership and vision, I am confident that, together, we will reach our shared goal of peace and prosperity for all your people.
* Mark Green is the administrator of the United States Agency for International Development.