The U.N. refugee agency called a Myanmar minister’s visit to Bangladesh to meet Muslim Rohingya refugees a confidence-building measure but said conditions in Myanmar were not ready for their return.
Myanmar Social Welfare Minister Win Myat Aye, who heads rehabilitation efforts in Myanmar’s troubled western Rakhine state, told about 50 Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh on Wednesday that getting the repatriation process moving was a top priority.
But the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said on Thursday Myanmar was not prepared.
“Conditions in Myanmar are not yet conducive for the voluntary, safe, dignified and sustainable return of refugees,” it said in a statement, adding that the responsibility remains with the government to create such conditions.
According to U.N. officials, nearly 700,000 Rohingya have fled into Bangladesh from Rakhine to escape a military crackdown since August, amid reports of murder, rape and arson by Myanmar troops and Buddhist vigilantes which the United Nations has likened to “ethnic cleansing”.
Buddhist-majority Myanmar rejects the charge, saying its security forces launched a legitimate counter-insurgency operation on Aug. 25 in response to Rohingya militant attacks.
The refugees are living in cramped camps in the port of Cox’s Bazar and Bangladesh is keen for them to return home soon, especially with the oncoming monsoons expected to cause major devastation at the camps.
As an estimated 600,000 Rohingya sought safety in Bangladesh between late-August and October 2017, UNHCR began work on an extension site next to the long-established Kutupalong refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar.
Whole families, young mothers and unaccompanied minors were among those fleeing for their lives since fighting reignited in Myanmar. They came by boat or walked barefoot for days, wading through vast rice fields.
They left most of their possessions behind. Large groups crossed into south-eastern Bangladesh hungry, in poor physical condition and in need of life-saving support. By mid-September, the Bangladeshi Government allocated some 2,000 acres of land on which family tents and temporary communal shelters were erected to shelter new arrivals. UNHCR site planners estimate that these will be sufficient to house 150,000 people.
The UNHCR called on Myanmar to provide the agency unhindered access in Rakhine to assess the situation and monitor the return and reintegration of refugees if and when they voluntarily return.
Acknowledging the mistrust and fear of the Rohingya of Myanmar, Win Myat Aye told the group of refugees on Wednesday to set aside the past and to prepare to go back, promising new villages would be built with hospitals and schools.
But some refugees have said they are worried about going back, fearing persecution.
Source: UNHCR, Reuters Abdullah The Kootneeti Team - South Asia