Published: Wed, November 14, 2018

Myanmar prepares for Rohingya returnees, but UN warns against force

Myanmar prepares for Rohingya returnees, but UN warns against force

Dhaka and Naypyidaw have agreed last month to begin by mid-November the repatriation of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims who fled to Bangladesh to escape a Myanmar army crackdown. Aung Thuerin, a member of the Union Enterprise for Humanitarian Assistance, Resettlement and Development in Rakhine, said the first group of 2,000 "approved" refugees would be sent back to Myanmar by boat or land in "batches" of 150 per day.

Myanmar's Social Welfare and Rehabilitation Minister came here on Sunday, saying, "Whether Rohingyas have to return or not, this is dependent on Bangladesh".

The UNHCR said Myanmar authorities should allow refugees to assess the conditions in Rakhine themselves before taking the decision on their return.

But more than 20 individuals on a list of potential returnees submitted by Bangladesh have told Reuters they will refuse to go back to northern Rakhine state from where they fled. Instead of lending any support, global media and rights groups alleged that the Myanmar has bulldozed over the site of a Rohingya mass grave to destroy evidence of a massacre committed by the military.

Meeting Bangladesh Foreign Secretary Shahidul Haque in Beijing, Chinese State Councillor Wang Yi said China was "happy to see" the two countries reaching the agreement to start repatriating Rohingya, describing it as important progress to resolving what China calls the "Rakhine state issue".

Bangladesh has said it would not force anyone to return and has asked the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to verify whether those shortlisted are willing to go back.

" 'People are so afraid of being identified, they are avoiding Friday prayers at the mosque, ' said one refugee, who has fled with his family from Jamtoli to the large Kutupalong camp to evade repatriation".

In August a year ago, seven lakh Rohingyas took shelter in Bangladesh after the violence in Myanmar's Harenin province.

"The return will be voluntary".

More than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims fled the sweeping army crackdown in Myanmar previous year.

A total of 42 aid agencies and NGOS said this week that Rohingya in the camps in Bangladesh were "terrified" about the prospect of coming back.

Myanmar on Saturday denied allegations of a cross-border shooting that raised tensions with Bangladesh ahead of the scheduled start date.

United Nations investigators have called for the country's top military brass to be prosecuted for genocide at the International Criminal Court (ICC) over last year's crackdown. After scrutinizing these lists, Myanmar agreed the return of 5000 Rohingyas in the first phase.

The Rohingya exodus began after Myanmar security forces launched a brutal crackdown following coordinated insurgent attacks in August 2017. Myanmar authorities should allow these refugees to undertake such go-and-see visits without prejudice to their right to return at a later date, if indeed the refugees decide after the visits that the current conditions in Rakhine State would not allow them to return in safety and dignity.

Returnees would only be allowed to travel within Maungdaw township, one of the three areas they fled, and only if they accepted National Verification Cards, an identity document most Rohingya reject because they say it brands them as foreigners. They can then begin to apply for citizenship.

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