Repatriation of Rohingya to Rakhine State postponed
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Repatriation of Rohingya to Rakhine State postponed

THE return of Rohingya Muslim refugees to Rakhine State, Burma (Myanmar) has been delayed amid widespread concerns that a return of hundreds of thousands of displaced people is premature.

Bangladeshi officials confirmed that the repatriation process – slated to begin on Tuesday – had been delayed, the Associated Press reported on Monday. Abul Kalam of the Refugees, Relief and Repatriation Commission was quoted as saying officials “are working on this”, without providing further details.

The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) reported on Saturday that 688,000 refugees have fled Rakhine State since violence broke out in the Rakhine in late August. Thousands of refugees have continued to stream across the border into Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, in recent weeks.

SEE ALSO: Rohingya chosen as Name of the Year for 2017

The Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), which provoked the Tatmadaw army’s so-called “clearing operations” against Muslim villages in the Rakhine by attacking security forces outposts on Aug 25, released a statement via Twitter on Saturday in which it expressed concern over the return of Rohingya to the restive region.

“The Burmese Terrorist Government is deceitfully and crookedly offering repatriated Rohingya refugees to settle down in so-called temporary camps (i.e., concentration camps) in Northern Arakan State instead of allowing them to resettle in their own ancestral lands and villages,” it said.

The strongly worded press release urged Aung San Suu Kyi’s government to be “more realistic, prudent, civilised, humane in offering solutions to the current Rohingya humanitarian crisis”.

It is not only ARSA, however, that has expressed concern with the arrangement as premature.

The United Nations, academics and international humanitarian groups have also voiced objections to the rushed repatriation of refugees under a deal signed between Burma and Bangladesh last November. Bangladesh has said it aims to return all refugees to its neighbour within two years.

SEE ALSO: Burma: Military admits to murdering 10 Rohingya found in mass graves

UN Secretary General António Guterres last week expressed concern that its refugee agency (UNHCR) was not directly involved in the repatriation agreement between Burma and Bangladesh, stating it was “very important” for UNHCR officials to be involved to ensure “international standards” during the operation.

“What is it that is essential on this is to make sure that the return is voluntary; it’s in safety and dignity and that people are allowed to come back to their places of origin,” added Guterres.

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UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres speaks in Colombia on January 14, 2018. Source: Reuters/Jaime Saldarriaga

“The worst would be to move these people from camps in Bangladesh to camps in Myanmar, keeping an artificial situation for a long time and not allowing for them to regain their normal lives.”

“Almost no details have been released about the way in which Bangladesh and Myanmar would organise and finance the return and reintegration of such a massive refugee population,” wrote Oxford University’s Jeff Crisp, a leading expert on refugee policy, last week.

“Without solutions that include the recognition of Rohingya citizenship and human rights, we are likely to see history repeating itself yet again in the future.”

SEE ALSO: UN flags plight of ‘forgotten’ Rohingya children in central Rakhine

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A house is seen on fire in Gawduthar village, Maungdaw township, in the north of Rakhine state, Myanmar September 7, 2017. Source: Reuters

Amnesty International’s Regional Director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific James Gomez recently said that: “the obfuscation and denials of the Myanmar authorities give no reason to hope that the rights of returning Rohingya would be protected, or that the reasons for their original flight no longer exist.”

“With memories of rape, killing and torture still fresh in the minds of Rohingya refugees, plans for their return to Myanmar are alarmingly premature.”

The Dhaka Tribune reported over the weekend that Bangladesh was in the process of signing a memorandum of understanding with the UNHCR, however that Burma did not want involvement from the agency.