Myanmar has said it repatriated the first five of some 700,000 Rohingya people who fled to Bangladesh during last year's military crackdown. It comes despite UN warnings that Myanmar is not ready for their return.
The first family of Rohingya Muslim refugees was repatriated back to Myanmar from Bangladesh on Saturday, despite being the victims of last year's brutal military crackdown which the UN described as an ethnic cleansing operation.
"Five family members who fled their homes were returned to relatives' houses in Maungdaw town in Myanmar's Rakhine state via Taung Pyo Letwei receiving center," the Myanmar government's information committee said in a statement.
Read more: The voice of the Rohingya refugees
However, Saturday's repatriations come despite warnings from the UN that Myanmar is not ready to receive returning Rohingya people.
Myanmar's military launched a brutal crackdown against the country's Muslim minority last August, forcing almost 700,000 Rohingya to flee across the border into neighboring Bangladesh.
Myanmar justified the crackdown, saying it was waging a counterinsurgency operation after Rohingya militants attacked a series of police outposts in Rakhine.
However, Rohingya people and rights groups reported that Myanmar security forces carried a series of extrajudicial killings, rapes and arson attacks as they forced the Muslim minority out of the country. The United Nations and the United States described the crackdown as an "ethnic cleansing" campaign.
A prosecutor for the International Criminal Court in the Hague this week asked the court to rule whether it has jurisdiction over the exodus of Rohingya to Bangladesh, citing possible crimes against humanity.
UN wary of Rohingya safety concerns
Myanmar and Bangladesh agreed in January to complete the voluntary repatriation of the Rohingya refugees over two years. Myanmar said it had set up two reception centers and a temporary camp on the border in Rakhine to house the first arrivals.
However, during a visit to the camps last week, UN Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Ursula Müller said the conditions were "deplorable" and not conducive to the return of refugees.
Müller also raised concern about the safety and protection of the Muslim minority once back in Myanmar, adding that Rakhine was still suffering from dangerous lack of access to health services.
Rohingya recognition on the cards?
The Myanmar government also said in its statement that the Rohingya family was issued with a so-called "National Verification Card," or NVC.
The NVCs are part of Myanmar's ongoing efforts to register Rohingya Muslims for the first time without granting them full citizenship. Rohingya community leaders, however, have largely rejected the card, saying it allows the government to treat life-long residents like new immigrants.
The Muslim minority group has largely shunned a form national identification. Most Burmese consider the Rohingya as unwanted Bangladeshi immigrants and the Myanmar government has forced them to register as "Bengali" ethnics, inferring that they are of Bangladeshi origin.
dm/sms (dpa, Reuters)