The UNHCRand the Bangladesh government have finalised a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on the voluntary return of Rohingya refugees once conditions in Myanmar are conducive.
The MoU, signed by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, and Bangladesh Foreign Secretary, Md Shahidul Haque, in Geneva on Friday morning. It establishes a framework of cooperation between the UNHCR and Bangladesh on the safe, voluntary, and dignified return of refugees in line with international standards, said a UNHCR statement.
More than 670,000 Rohingya have fled violence in Myanmar to Bangladesh since last August, joining an estimated 200,000 Rohingya who have already sought shelter in the country over past decades.
For the hospitality, protection, and assistance provided to those refugees, UNHCR would like to extend its sincere thanks to the Government and people of Bangladesh, read the statement.
In the absence of a tripartite agreement between UNHCR, Myanmar, and Bangladesh, the UNHCR has continued to engage with both governments in negotiations on two separate MoUs, meant to ensure that any future returns are conducted in line with international standards of voluntariness, safety, and dignity, it added.
UNHCR considers that conditions in Myanmar are not yet conducive for returns to be safe, dignified, and sustainable. The responsibility for creating such conditions remains with the Myanmar authorities, and these must go beyond the preparation of physical infrastructure to facilitate logistical arrangements, according to the statement.
Refugees in Bangladesh have said that before considering a return to Myanmar, they would need to see concrete progress in relation to their legal status, citizenship, security, and their ability to enjoy basic rights at home in Rakhine State. UNHCR has continued to call on the Government of Myanmar to take concrete measures to address the root causes of displacement, in line with the recommendations of the Kofi Annan-led Advisory Commission on Rakhine State.
One step the Government of Myanmar could immediately take is to provide UNHCR and other relevant actors with full and unhindered access to refugees’ places of origin in Rakhine State, the statement said.
Another practical measure would be to ease restrictions on movement for internally displaced persons encamped in the central townships of Rakhine State.This would also help to build confidence among refugees in Bangladesh, it added, saying that such concrete measures would help demonstrate to Rohingya refugees that the Myanmar government is committed to a sustainable solution.
In Myanmar, together with the UN Development Program (UNDP), UNHCR is in ongoing discussions with the Myanmar government, on a tripartite agreement to outline the scope of cooperation between these agencies and the Myanmar Government in Rakhine State. The agreement would aim to set forth a framework for refugees’ voluntary repatriation in line with international standards, aim to create conditions that are conducive to eventual voluntary repatriation, and provide humanitarian and development assistance for all people of Rakhine State.