GENEVA – The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said on Friday that the repatriation of Rohingya refugees to Myanmar should be done according to international standards, warning that suitable conditions for their safe return were not yet in place.
On Thursday, the governments of Myanmar and Bangladesh signed a memorandum of intent in Naypyidaw, clearing the way for the repatriation of the 622,000 Rohingya refugees who have escaped to Bangladesh fleeing violence in neighboring Myanmar.
“At present, conditions in Myanmar’s Rakhine State are not in place to enable safe and sustainable returns. Refugees are still fleeing, and many have suffered violence, rape, and deep psychological harm,” UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards said.
Edwards added that the refugees cannot return to the same circumstances of underdevelopment and repression that prompted their exodus from Rakhine, but must be allowed to return in “safe and dignified conditions.”
He said that the repatriated refugees should be allowed to return to their houses and should not be confined to specific places such as refugee camps, adding that concerted efforts needed to be made by authorities in addressing the “root causes of flight, including the (Rohingyas) lack of citizenship” in Myanmar.
Edwards also underlined that most of the villages and means of livelihood of Rohingyas have been completely destroyed during the Myanmar army’s operations.
Many Rohingyas are stateless since Myanmar considers them to be Bangladeshi immigrants, rather than a Muslim minority of Myanmar, and refuses to grant them citizenship.
The current Rohingya exodus started with the Myanmar security forces responding to the Aug. 25 attacks on multiple government outposts by the Rohingya rebel group Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army.
The military campaign has been criticized as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing” by the UNHCR, sentiments that were echoed by the United States Secretary of State this week.