Myan­mar takes back one Ro­hingya fam­ily

United Na­tions, how­ever, says it’s not yet safe for them to re­turn

The Sault Star - - WORLD NEWS -

BANGKOK — Myan­mar has ac­cepted what ap­pears to be the first five among some 700,000 Ro­hingya Mus­lim refugees who fled to neigh­bour­ing Bangladesh to es­cape mil­i­tary-led vi­o­lence against the mi­nor­ity group, even though the United Na­tions says it’s not yet safe for them to re­turn home.

A gov­ern­ment state­ment said Satur­day that five mem­bers of a fam­ily re­turned to western Rakhine state from the border area.

The state­ment said author­i­ties de­ter­mined whether they had lived in Myan­mar and pro­vided them with a na­tional ver­i­fi­ca­tion card. The card is a form of ID, but does not mean cit­i­zen­ship — some­thing Ro­hingya have been de­nied in Bud­dhist-ma­jor­ity Myan­mar, where they’ve faced per­se­cu­tion for decades.

It said that the fam­ily was stay­ing tem­po­rar­ily with rel­a­tives in Maung­daw town, the ad­min­is­tra­tive cen­tre close to the border.

The state­ment did not say if any more repa­tri­a­tions are be­ing planned. Bangladesh has given Myan­mar a list of more than 8,000 refugees to be­gin the repa­tri­a­tion, but it has been fur­ther de­layed by a com­pli­cated ver­i­fi­ca­tion process.

The two coun­tries agreed in De­cem­ber to be­gin repa­tri­at­ing them in Jan­uary, but they were de­layed by con­cerns among aid work­ers and Ro­hingya that they would be forced to re­turn and face un­safe con­di­tions in Myan­mar.

Hun­dreds of Ro­hingya were re­port­edly killed in the re­cent vi­o­lence, and many houses and vil­lages burned to the ground. The United Na­tions and the U.S. have de­scribed the army crack­down as “eth­nic cleans­ing.”

On Fri­day, the UN refugee agency and Bangladesh fi­nal­ized a mem­o­ran­dum of un­der­stand­ing that de­scribes the repa­tri­a­tion process as “safe, vol­un­tary and dig­ni­fied ... in line with in­ter­na­tional stan­dards.”

UNHCR said it “con­sid­ers that con­di­tions in Myan­mar are not yet con­ducive for re­turns to be safe, dig­ni­fied, and sus­tain­able. The re­spon­si­bil­ity for cre­at­ing such con­di­tions re­mains with the Myan­mar author­i­ties, and these must go be­yond the prepa­ra­tion of phys­i­cal in­fra­struc­ture to fa­cil­i­tate lo­gis­ti­cal ar­range­ments.”

Ear­lier in the week, Myan­mar So­cial Wel­fare Min­is­ter Win Myat Aye met with about 40 Ro­hingya refugees at the Ku­tu­pa­long camp in Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh for more than an hour, some­times ex­chang­ing heated words.

A Ro­hingya leader, Ab­dur Rahim, said at least eight rape vic­tims were among those who met with him. Rahim said the group pre­sented 13 de­mands for the gov­ern­ment to meet for their re­turn to Myan­mar.

Rahim said the group be­came an­gry when Win Myat Aye said the Ro­hingya refugees must ac­cept na­tional ver­i­fi­ca­tion cards to be pro­vided by Myan­mar in which they state they are mi­grants from Bangladesh.

Ro­hingya Mus­lims have long been treated as out­siders in Myan­mar, even though their fam­i­lies have lived in the coun­try for gen­er­a­tions. Nearly all have been de­nied cit­i­zen­ship since 1982, ef­fec­tively ren­der­ing them state­less. They are de­nied free­dom of move­ment and other ba­sic rights.

Rahim said they de­manded to be rec­og­nized as cit­i­zens of Myan­mar be­fore the repa­tri­a­tion starts and that their se­cu­rity ar­range­ments be su­per­vised by the United Na­tions.

Ro­hingya who have been repa­tri­ated in the past af­ter pre­vi­ous refugee ex­o­duses have been forced to live in camps in Myan­mar.

MYAN­MAR GOV­ERN­MENT IN­FOR­MA­TION COM­MIT­TEE VIA AP

Myan­mar im­mi­gra­tion of­fi­cials ex­am­ine doc­u­ments as a Ro­hingya fam­ily of five look on at a re­ceiv­ing cen­tre in Taung Pyo, Letwe, north­ern Rakhine state.

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