UN officials have condemned a deal struck between Myanmar and Bangladesh to start repatriating Rohingya refugees, with the UN refugee agency confirming they have not been consulted about the plan.
Bangladesh and Myanmar government officials announced this week they had struck a “very concrete” repatriation deal for the return of the 720,000 Rohingya refugees who fled a brutal military crackdown in August 2017, which would begin by “mid-November”.
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Myanmar officials said on Wednesday they had verified 5,000 Rohingya refugees so far, with the “first batch” of 2,000 to be repatriated in the next month. However, Stéphane Dujarric, a spokesman for the UN secretary general, António Guterres, said the deal had taken the UN high commissioner for refugees (UNHCR) by surprise.
“To be clear … UNHCR, which is in lead on the issues of refugees, was not consulted on this matter,” said Dujarric at the daily press briefing given by the secretary general’s office. Chris Melzer, the UNHCR’s senior external officer based in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, reiterated this, saying: “UNHCR was not a party to that agreement.
“We would advise against imposing any timetable or target figures for repatriation in respect of the voluntary nature and sustainability of return,” added Melzer. “It is unclear if refugees know their names are on this list that has been cleared by Myanmar. They need to be informed. They also need to be consulted if they are willing to return … It is critical that returns are not rushed or premature.”
Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya have been living in cramped refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar for more than a year after fleeing rape, murder and arson in Rakhine state at the hands of the Myanmar military.
The Myanmar government signed an agreement with the UNHCR in June that they would work with the UN to create “safe and dignified” conditions for the return of the Rohingya to Rakhine, including guaranteeing security, freedom of movement and pathway to citizenship. None of these assurances have been made by the Myanmar government so far and the UNHCR has only been given restricted access to Rakhine state.
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