Myanmar and two UN agencies have announced a deal for the safe return of Rohingya refugees who fled the western Rakhine state after an army-led brutal crackdown.
Almost 700,000 Rohingya Muslims fled the country to settle in grimy Bangladeshi camps after what Washington and human rights agencies described as “ethnic cleansing” in a violent campaign led by the country’s army.
Myanmar and Bangladesh agreed in November to return the Rohingya to their home country, but the refugees articulated concerns regarding their safe return and settlement and requested an international entity to overlook the process.
The Myanmar government stated they have agreed with the UN refugee and development agencies for their assistance for the “voluntary” return of Rohingya refugees with “safety and dignity” to their “places of origin or of their choosing.”
The UN refugee agency in a separate statement said the conditions for voluntary return have not been agreed upon yet.
They also said the “memo of understanding” with the Myanmar government is the first step in an effort to change the situation in the country.
“[The memorandum of understanding] is the first and necessary step to support the government’s efforts to change that situation and is also intended to support recovery and resilience-based development for the benefit of all communities living in Rakhine state,” UNHCR said in a statement.
The UN said in a statement the agreement will also grant access to the western Rakhine state where most of the violence took place. The assessment will allow the agencies to report back to the refugees of the conditions and protection activities in their respective areas so they can decide whether they want to return or not.
Myanmar forces have been accused of the most violent of crimes against the Rohingya Muslim minority including rape, killing, torture, and burning homes. The government has repeatedly denied these reports, including one by Amnesty International, claiming the horrifying attacks were retaliation to insurgent attacks.
However, the ethnic Muslim minority in predominantly-Buddhist Myanmar has long been denied basic rights and citizenship.
Myanmar has said, as of now, they will only allow refugees with identity documents to return. Most of Rohingya do not have those.
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