By Michelle Nichols
NEW YORK (Reuters) – Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said she spoke to U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday about Rohingya Muslims flooding into her country from Myanmar, but she expects no help from him as he has made clear how he feels about refugees.
As Trump left an event he hosted at the United Nations on reforming the world body, Hasina said she stopped him for a few minutes.
“He just asked how is Bangladesh? I said ‘it’s doing very well, but the only problem that we have is the refugees from Myanmar’,” Hasina told Reuters in an interview. “But he didn’t make any comment about refugees.”
A Myanmar military response to insurgent attacks last month in the country’s Rakhine state sent more than 410,000 Rohingya Muslims fleeing to neighboring Bangladesh, escaping what the United Nations has branded as ethnic cleansing.
The Myanmar government says about 400 people have been killed in the fighting.
Hasina, who is due to address the annual gathering of world leaders at the United Nations General Assembly on Thursday, said Trump’s stance on refugees was clear, so it was not worth asking him for help with the Rohingya Muslim refugees.
“Already America declared that they will not allow any refugees,” she said. “What I can expect from them, and especially (the) president. He already declared his mind … so why I should ask?”
“Bangladesh is not a rich country … but if we can feed 160 million people, another 500 or 700,000 people, we can do it.”
A senior White House official was unaware of the exchange but said Trump was deeply interested in the subject and that “he would definitely engage if it were brought up.”
Shortly after taking office in January, Trump tried to put a 120-day halt on the U.S. refugee program, bar Syrian refugees indefinitely and impose a 90-day suspension on people from six predominantly Muslim countries.
“The travel ban into the United States should be far larger, tougher and more specific-but stupidly, that would not be politically correct!” Trump said on Twitter on Friday.
Trump says the move is needed to prevent terrorist attacks and allow the government to put in place more stringent vetting procedures. There is a key Supreme Court hearing next month on the constitutionality of his executive order on the ban.
About a million Rohingya lived in Rakhine State until the recent violence. Most face travel restrictions and are denied citizenship in a country where many Buddhists regard them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
Hasina said she wanted to see more international political pressure on Myanmar to allow the Rohingya to return.
“(Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi) should agree that these people belong to her country and that Myanmar is their country. They should take them back,” she said. “These people are suffering.”
Nobel laureate Suu Kyi has faced a barrage of international criticism for not stopping the violence. Myanmar national security adviser Thaung Tun told Reuters on Monday that Myanmar would ensure those who left their homes could return, but there was “a process we have to discuss.”
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley urged the Myanmar government to end military operations, grant humanitarian access, and commit to aiding the safe return of civilians to their homes.
“People are still at risk of being attacked or killed, humanitarian aid is not reaching the people who need it, and innocent civilians are still fleeing across the border to Bangladesh,” Haley said after Britain hosted a meeting on the crisis in New York on Monday.
A U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state, Patrick Murphy, is due in Myanmar this week.