SYDNEY – Myanmar has made “minimal” preparations for the repatriation of around 725,000 Rohingyas who have fled to neighboring Bangladesh since 2017, according to a study released on Wednesday.
“We’ve found no evidence of widespread preparations for Rohingya refugees to return to safe and dignified conditions. Instead, we’ve found ongoing destruction of additional settlements and the construction of highly securitized camps and military bases,” said the report by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.
Analysis of satellite images show six camps have been constructed over the ruins of former Rohingya settlements destroyed by fire during the Myanmar military operation in August 2017 in the western Rakhine state, which led to a massive exodus of the Rohingyas into the neighboring Bangladesh.
However, according to the study, the camps could be military bases situated over the former villages of the Rohingya, a mainly Muslim-minority.
Rohingyas have been denied citizenship by Myanmar authorities despite living in the region for centuries.
The Australian institute said over 320 settlements – out of the total 392 identified by the United Nations as damaged during the 2017 operation – showed no signs of reconstruction.
The ASPI said destruction of residential settlements of the minority continued during 2018 and 2019, and presented graphic material to back the claim.
Nathan Ruser, one of the researchers involved in preparing the report, said the continued destruction of settlement “raises serious questions about the willingness of the Myanmar government to facilitate a safe and dignified repatriation process.”
Naipyidaw has repeatedly claimed that it was prepared for the return of the Rohingyas, having constructed at least one transit center near the Bangladesh border, which is guarded by soldiers and surrounded by high barbed-wire fences.
In January 2018, Bangladesh and Myanmar agreed to begin the voluntary return of thousands of Rohingyas, but the process was suspended – and there are no signs of its revival anytime soon – as none of the refugees agreed to return without human rights guarantees from Myanmar authorities.
In August 2017, the Myanmar military launched a campaign against Rohingyas after insurgents of the rebel group Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army attacked multiple security posts.
The military operation, which has been accused of genocide and ethnic cleansing by UN researchers, led to 725,000 Rohingyas fleeing to Bangladesh.
The refugees have been living in poor conditions in the world’s biggest refugee camp in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar district.
While another 125,000 Rohingyas live in Rakhine in conditions of segregation as internally displaced persons, after episodes of sectarian violence that started in 2012.
Myanmar classifies Rohingyas as illegal Bangladeshi immigrants, denying them citizenship and imposing a number of restrictions, including limits on their freedom of movement.