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UNHCR: Any repatriation must be voluntary

  • Published at 11:41 pm August 22nd, 2019
web-makeshift rohingya camp in cox’s Bazar
This photo taken recently shows a makeshift rohingya camp in cox’s Bazar Syed Zakir Hossain/Dhaka Tribune

The organization said it has been assisting the government of Bangladesh in surveying the refugees on their decision to return

Any repatriation of the Rohingyas must be voluntary, safe and dignified, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has reiterated, placing great emphasis on building trust of the persecuted people from Rakhine.

The UN refugee agency has also said it is essential that it and UNDP have more predictable and effective access to refugees’ places of origin and potential areas of return in Rakhine State.

Contacted, government officials concerned told the Dhaka Tribune that as of now there is no possibility of any voluntary repatriation because the preconditions set by the Rohingyas to return their homes cannot be met by Bangladesh.

They said that the Rohingyas would have to get their demands, including assurance of citizenship realised only after going back to Myanmar.

The international community must put much more efforts to compel Myanmar to accept the legitimate demands of the Rohingyas, they added, expressing frustration over the role played by the global community, especially the UN.

 “UNHCR has agreed with the governments of Bangladesh and Myanmar that any repatriation of refugees must be voluntary, safe and dignified. Respect for these principles will also have the practical effect of helping to ensure that return is sustainable,” said a UNHCR statement on Thursday on which a second attempt was made unsucessfully to begin the repatriation.   

“This has been confirmed in discussions Bangladesh authorities and UNHCR have had with Rohingya refugees this week. Many stated that they do hope to go home to Myanmar as soon as conditions allow and that assurances regarding their citizenship status, freedom of movement, and security in Myanmar could be provided,” it said. 

“The voluntary repatriation of refugees will require the continuous engagement of all concerned to build the trust of refugees, and is a process, not a one-off event. UNHCR remains committed to its role in supporting both governments in this process,” it added.

Through the Bangladesh-Myanmar joint working group on repatriation, the government of Myanmar conveyed to the government of Bangladesh the names of 3,450 Rohingyas who have been cleared for return to Rakhine, said the statement.

UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, sees Myanmar’s engagement in this process as a positive step in the affirmation of the right to return of Rohingya refugees, it said.  

UNHCR has been assisting the government of Bangladesh in surveying these refugees on whether they wish to return to Myanmar and to confirm the voluntariness of any individual decision to do so, said the statement.

“Over the past few days, together with Bangladeshi officials, UNHCR has visited refugee families in their shelters to establish whether they wish to return to Myanmar. So far, none of those interviewed have indicated a willingness to repatriate at this time,” it said. 

“UNHCR will continue assisting the government of Bangladesh in this process to ensure that all those cleared for return are interviewed. UNHCR appreciates the consistent commitment by government of Bangladesh to ensure that the refugees’ decisions will be respected,” the statement further said. 

“Building confidence is essential. In late July, senior officials from Myanmar met with Rohingya refugees in the camps in Bangladesh. This was an important first step, and the dialogue should continue,” it said. 

“Together with UNDP, UNHCR is supporting the government of Myanmar’s efforts through the implementation of quick impact projects to improve conditions for all communities in Rakhine State and promote social cohesion between them, so that the voluntary return and reintegration of refugees is possible,” it added.