Published: Mon, April 16, 2018
Global Media | By Jackie Banks

Bangladesh, UNHCR dispute Myanmar's Rohingya repatriation claim

Bangladesh, UNHCR dispute Myanmar's Rohingya repatriation claim

Myanmar says it has repatriated the first Rohingya refugees from among almost 700,000 who fled a crackdown in the country past year despite warnings from the United Nations that it is not yet safe to return.

An estimated 687,000 Rohingya - about half of Myanmar's entire population of Rohingya, a stateless Muslim ethnic minority group - have left their homes in northern Rakhine state since violence erupted in August, crossing into Bangladesh and settling in vast and squalid refugee camps.

Myanmar and Bangladesh agreed in January to complete a voluntary repatriation of the refugees in two years.

In a statement on Saturday, the Myanmar government claimed: "Five members of a Muslim family came to the Taungpyoletwea reception centre in Rakhine state in the morning".

Bangladesh's refugee commissioner, Mohammad Abul Kalam, told AFP the family had been living in a camp erected on a patch of "no man's land" between the two countries.

Early this week, Myanmar Social Welfare Minister Win Myat Aye met with about 40 Rohingya refugees at the Kutupalong camp in Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh for more than an hour, sometimes exchanging heated words.

About Monday, " Bangladesh's house minister, Asaduzzaman Khan, said Myanmar's claim that your family have been "repatriated" had been fictitious, noting that your family had never arrived at Bangladeshi territory.

"We don't know when [repatriation] will start. They have not been able to create a ground for trust that they will take back these people", he added. Authorities determined "whether they were once living here or not" and provided the family with National Verification Cards, a form of ID that falls short of citizenship and has been rejected by Rohingya leaders who want full rights.

A man, two women and two children were also photographed getting medical checks and ID cards.

It said that the family had been sent to stay "temporarily" with relatives in Rakhine state's Maungdaw town after "finishing the repatriation process". But it did not mention plans for further returnees expected in the near future.

Burma repatriates first Rohingya family despite UN warnings

If confirmed, this would be the first group of Rohingya repatriated to Myanmar since the crisis began.

In Myanmar, together with the UN Development Programme (UNDP), UNHCR is in ongoing discussions with the government on a tripartite agreement to outline the scope of cooperation between these agencies and the Myanmar Government in Rakhine State.

Andrea Giorgetta from the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) criticised the repatriation announcement as "a public relations exercise in an attempt to deflect attention from the need for accountability for crimes committed in Rakhine state".

Rohingya who have been repatriated in the past have been forced to live in camps in Myanmar.

The UN maintains that much work needs to be done on the Myanmar side before returns can be safe and dignified.

On Friday, the United Nations refugee agency and Bangladesh finalised a memorandum of understanding that describes the repatriation process as "safe, voluntary and line with worldwide standards".

United Nations: The conditions in Myanmar are not yet conducive for the safe and dignified return of Rohingya refugees to their homes, the UN refugee agency said, underlining that the responsibility for creating such conditions remains with the country's authorities.

For months, they poured across the border into Bangladesh, recounting stories of arson, rape and murder by Burmese soldiers, police and Buddhist militias.

According to the Rohingya Blogger, however, the individuals in the photos are the family members of the administrator of Taung Pyo Latya, the designated entry point for returning refugees.

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