MAUNGDAW: The United Nations on Wednesday called on Myanmar to give aid agencies unhindered access to camps it has built for tens of thousands of Rohingya refugees before they can return after fleeing Myanmar military operations last year.
An international delegation advising Myanmar toured the Taung Pyo Letwe refugee camp outside the town of Maungdaw near the Bangladesh border. Video of the camp shows long, plywood houses set on a rocky field and surrounded by a wire mesh fence topped with barbed wire.
On Tuesday, Bangladesh delayed the repatriation of the largely stateless Rohingya to Myanmar as the process of compiling and verifying the list of people to be sent back was incomplete. But the UN said that necessary safeguards for the refugees were still missing.
“Until the safety and wellbeing of any child returning to Myanmar can be guaranteed, talk of repatriation is premature,” UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Justin Forsyth said in a statement. The UN refugee agency said that earlier there were continued restrictions on access for aid agencies, the media and other independent observers in Myanmar.
The UNHCR called on Myanmar to allow the necessary unhindered humanitarian access in Rakhine State and create conditions for a genuine and lasting solution. More than 688,000 Muslim Rohingya and a few hundred Hindu Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh since Aug 25 last year after the Myanmar military cracked down in the northern part of Rakhine state, amid witness reports of killings, looting and rape, in response to militant attacks on security forces.
Many in Myanmar regard the Rohingya community as ‘illegal’ immigrants from Bangladesh. The United Nations described Myanmar’s crackdown as ethnic cleansing, which Myanmar denies. On Tuesday, Myanmar officials told a news conference that Bangladesh was not ready to send back the refugees as scheduled because the potential returnees hadn’t completed the forms Myanmar provided attesting to their former residence in Myanmar.
“They also have to check with the UNHCR about whether it’s voluntary,” Minister of International Cooperation Kyaw Tin told the news conference. “They need a lot of time to fill out the forms and to determine if they really want to come back.” A Bangladesh official who participated in the talks with Myanmar said that the UNHCR would be involved in the process to ensure the repatriations would be voluntary.