The United Nations Security Council will press Myanmar to ensure that Rohingya who fled the country can return home in safety and freedom, an envoy said Monday after UN diplomats ended a tour of Bangladesh's refugee camps.
"This is a humanitarian crisis and a human rights issue," Kuwait's ambassador to the UN, Mansour al-Otaibi, told reporters after the delegation ended a three-day visit to Bangladesh and headed for Myanmar.
Envoys from the 15 council members on Sunday visited camps around Cox's Bazar where about 700,000 Rohingya have sought refuge since Myanmar's military launched a crackdown on their community in Rakhine state last August. The United Nations has called the military action "ethnic cleansing."
Some of the Muslim refugees broke down in tears as they told harrowing stories of murder and rape in mainly Buddhist Myanmar. Hundreds staged demonstrations demanding justice for atrocities.
The envoys met Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Monday morning before leaving for Myanmar, where they will hold talks with Myanmar’s de facto civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi. They will also take a helicopter flight over Rakhine to see the remains of villages torched during the violence.
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"The situation cannot remain without a solution and the message that we are conveying to Myanmar, to refugees themselves, to the rest of the world, [is] that we are determined to find a solution to this crisis," al-Otaibi said.
"All parties should show commitment to solve it as soon as possible. We cannot remain silent about it," said al-Otaibi, whose country helped organized the tour with fellow council members Britain and Peru.
The Kuwaiti diplomat said the UNSC would "try to explore ways and means to speed up implementation of the [repatriation accord] signed between Bangladesh and Myanmar for safe, free, voluntary and dignified return of the refugees."
Bangladesh and Myanmar signed the accord last November but no refugee has yet been sent back from Bangladesh. While Bangladeshi officials express frustration, many diplomats say repatriation is unlikely to happen.
Refugees themselves want guarantees of safety and – crucially – citizenship if they return to a country which regards them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
"We don't want to raise the expectations of what the UNSC can do. We want to help all parties concerned to speed up the process and the implementation of the agreement," said al-Otaibi.
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Myanmar has faced intense international pressure over its clampdown on the Rohingya.
The UNSC has called for the safe return of the Rohingya and an end to the discrimination against them.
However, deputy Russian ambassador Dmitry Polyanskiy, whose country has supported Myanmar, warned on Sunday that the council did not have a "magic stick" to resolve one of the world's worst refugee crises.
"We are not looking away from this crisis, we are not closing our eyes," the Russian diplomat said at the Kutupalong refugee camp.
Myanmar has said the military operation in Rakhine was mounted to root out extremists and has rejected nearly all allegations that its security forces committed atrocities.