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UNHCR to Myanmar: Take action to enable Rohingyas to return home

  • Published at 03:14 pm May 25th, 2019
Rohingyas
File photo: More than 700,000 Rohingyas were forced to flee to Bangladesh from Rakhine state after Myanmar security forces launched a brutal crackdown in late August last year Reuters

UNHCR likely to extend tenure of tripartite deal by one year

Filippo Grandi, Commissioner of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), has urged the Myanmar government to take action to enable the Rohingyas in Bangladesh—and those displaced inside Myanmar—to safely return home.

Grandi, who concluded his five-day visit to Myanmar on Friday, said he had "constructive and substantive" meetings on Thursday with Myanmar State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and other senior officials, reports UNB.

He noted the positive efforts of the government to develop a national strategy on closing internally displaced people (IDP) camps, and stressed the need for sustainable, safe, and voluntary solutions to their plight in full consultation with the communities concerned.

On Thursday, Grandi also signed a separate Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Myanmar Department of Disaster Management of the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement covering UNHCR's broader activities throughout the country.

The High Commissioner indicated his satisfaction that the Tripartite MoU will soon be extended for a further year and praised the commitment of the government to improve conditions.

Small projects are being carried out by UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and UNDP teams, under the MoU—signed with the government of Myanmar in June 2018—and have the potential to help foster positive relations between communities, according to UNHCR.

Grandi welcomed the initiatives to find solutions to the displacement in Kachin State and elsewhere, according to UNHCR.

He conveyed the key concerns that he had heard both from both the Rakhine and Rohingya communities in Myanmar — and from the Rohingyas in Bangladesh.

Grandi committed continued UNHCR engagement to help build the confidence that Rohingyas from Myanmar—currently in Bangladesh—require for their voluntary and safe return.

He also pledged continued support for displaced people and other affected communities.

He then renewed the strong engagement and readiness of his organization to support the government in finding solutions for displaced and stateless people.

Grandi visits Rakhine State

Grandi traveled to a number of villages in Maungdaw township—in the northern part of Rakhine State—to hear communities speak of their challenges, needs, and hopes.

They conveyed to him that projects in their villages—such as water reservoirs, school rehabilitation, road improvements, provision of bicycles and skills training—are already making a difference in their lives.

While driving in northern Rakhine, Grandi saw stretches of empty land—once occupied by Rohingya villages—now covered by overgrown vegetation.

Few signs remain of the houses and markets that once dotted the landscape.

This was a stark reminder of the violence of 2017 that caused over 740,000 Rohingyas to flee the country.

The High Commissioner noted that for the Rohingya population to return, local development is just one factor in building their confidence.

He emphasized that the recommendations of the Rakhine Advisory Commission remain essential, citing his recent visit to Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh. During the visit, Rohingyas told him that freedom of movement, access to schools and jobs, plus, pathways to citizenship are the most important issues for their return.

The Rohingya villagers he met with who remain in Rakhine echoed these demands, noting their inability to travel for their livelihoods, to access higher education, and to gain the rights that citizenship affords.

In Buthidaung, at a Buddhist monastery—hosting Rakhine people recently displaced as a result of the current insecurity—representatives of the group told Grandi of their wish to return to their homes as soon as possible.

They asked for security to be reestablished and unexploded ordinances to be cleared. They strongly appealed for peace.

The Rakhine State government currently estimates that around 29,000 people—mostly from the Rakhine community—are displaced in seven townships in Rakhine state due to this conflict.

Grandi also met with a group of Rakhine villagers in Maungdaw township. The place was once a cluster of five villages, surrounded by farms and fish ponds, with a large Rohingya population — they are now refugees in Bangladesh.

They expressed concerns about the impact on the local economy and labor shortages following the departure of their Muslim neighbours.

The High Commissioner also visited Rohingya IDP camps on the outskirts of Sittwe, in the central part of Rakhine State.

The camps are segregated from other communities, and restrictions are in place, limiting their movement, with severe consequences for their ability to earn a living.

Representatives of the displaced, who have been enduring these conditions for seven years, told Grandi of their wish to return to their places of origin.

They expressed their wish to work, farm, or fish in order not to continue depending on humanitarian aid.

However, fundamentally, they told him that they yearn for citizenship, documentation, and equal treatment.

Some 128,000 people have been displaced in central Rakhine since 2012.

From both the long-term and the newly displaced communities, Grandi heard a recurrent desire to return to their original homes as soon as possible.

In his discussions, Grandi also encouraged the Myanmar government to accelerate the verification of some 98,000 refugees remaining in Thailand; to allow for expanded solutions for this group, through repatriation or legal access to the labour market in Thailand.

Some 729 refugees have returned from Thailand since October 2016, and action is now needed to accelerate solutions for the remainder.