Government officials in Myanmar announced Wednesday that they have begun discussing with UN agencies the possible repatriation of Rohingya Muslim refugees.
Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya have fled Myanmar's western state of Rakhine to Bangladesh since last August, following brutal crackdowns carried out by security forces in retaliation for attacks committed by Rohingya insurgent groups.
Foreign Ministry Permanent Secretary Myint Thu confirmed that the Myanmar government had sent the offices of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the UN Development Program an invitation to become involved in the repatriation process. The agencies responded with a proposal and concept paper that the government has under review.
"We considered that the time is now appropriate to invite UNHCR and UNDP to be involved in the repatriation and resettlement process, as well as in carrying out activities supporting the livelihoods and development for all communities in Rakhine state," Myint Thu said.
Neither the UN nor the government have discussed the details of the proposal publicly, but UN spokesman Stanislav Saling confirmed that in the proposal sent to Myanmar, they suggested ways in which the country could help create conditions "for the safe, dignified and voluntary return for refugees, in line with international principles."
Not many Rohingyas eligible so far
Bangladesh and Myanmar had reached a deal in November 2017 to carry out the Rohingya repatriations within two months, but they have still not begun.
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Myanmar officials said on Wednesday that they have only been able to verify and approve 374 Rohingya refugees for possible repatriation and blamed Bangladesh for not providing accurate information about the people concerned.
"Out of 8,032, we verified 374. These 374 will be the first batch of the repatriation," Myint Thu said. They can come back when it's convenient for them," he added.
Estimates put the number of Rohingya who fled to Bangladesh at 700,000 and human rights experts do not believe that their safety can be guaranteed upon return. Most Rohingya in Myanmar are considered stateless persons or non-citizens with few rights.
Officials in Bangladesh have expressed doubts about their neighbor's willingness to take back the refugees.
The situation with the Rohingya has caused widespread condemnation from the international community. Myanmar's military has been accused by rights groups of atrocities against the Muslim group that could amount to ethnic cleansing.
The government, led by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, and the country's military have repeatedly denied that they have been involved in any systematic human rights violations.
jcg/jm (Reuters, AFP)