UN fears for safety of returning refugees
The first Rohingya refugees out of the 700,000 who escaped a military crackdown have been repatriated to Myanmar, despite the United Nations voicing fears over the safety of returnees.
Five members of one Rohingya family were temporarily resettled with relatives in Maungdaw town, an administrative centre close to the border between Bangladesh and Myanmar.
This is the first instance of repatriation, in which members of the Muslim minority group who have been historically persecuted in Myanmar, left refugee camps in Bangladesh to return to the western Rakhine state.
The stateless Muslim minority group have been seeking safety in refugee camps across the border in Bangladesh since the military-sanctioned violence, beginning in August 2017, forcibly displaced close to 700,000 Rohingya. During the crackdown, over 6,700 Rohingya were killed, including 730 children under the age of 5. Despite the UN identifying the military campaign as ethnic cleansing, Myanmar’s government has denied the charge and said it was targeting only Rohingya militants.
In an interview with IOHR TV, Sky News Correspondent Ashish Joshi, who has first-hand experience of reporting on the Rohingya crisis, described the military crackdown as “textbook case of ethnic cleansing”.
Late on Saturday 14 April 2018, the Myanmar government announced that it had processed the first family of Rohingya refugees in a newly established repatriation centre. According to the Facebook page of the government’s information committee, “The five members of a family … came back to Taungpyoletwei town repatriation camp in Rakhine state this morning”. The Facebook page however did not mention what plans were in place to facilitate the future repatriation of Rohingya refugees.
Human rights groups have been critical of this first process, expressing concerns over the long-term protection of human rights for returning Rohingya people. The Bangladeshi government also remains skeptical of the return of these five refugees. Although Myanmar and Bangladesh initiated negotiations in January 2018 and successfully arranged a repatriation plan, its start has been postponed as both sides claim their counterpart has not prepared sufficiently.
The immigration authorities supplied the relocated family with national verification cards. This form of ID still falls short of complete citizenship, and Rohingya leaders have said their return is on the condition that they are provided with full rights.
The UN has warned that Myanmar has not effectively addressed the socioeconomic and legal discrimination that the Rohingya minority has experienced for decades, such as denying the Muslim minority full citizenship upon repatriation. Ursula Mueller, the Assistant Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, has expressed concern over the inadequate conditions that the Rohingya will return to if repatriated.
The current process is a plan that is still on hold in the international community. The UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Refugees has questioned the safety of the refugees, stating “conditions in Myanmar are not yet conducive for returns to be safe, dignified, and sustainable”.