The United Nations refugee agency reiterated its request for unhindered access to Rakhine state in Myanmar yesterday, as part of a long term strategy for the safe repatriation of the Rohingya refugees who have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh.
UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards said the necessary safeguards for potential returnees are absent even as more of the ethnic minority continue to arrive in Bangladesh from Myanmar.
“There are continued restrictions on access for aid agencies, the media and other independent observers,” Edwards said at a press briefing organized at the Palais des Nations in Geneva, Switzerland.
“To ensure the right of refugees to return voluntarily, and in safety and in dignity, we call again on Myanmar to allow the necessary unhindered humanitarian access in Rakhine State and create conditions for a genuine and lasting solution.”
The UNHCR spokesperson added that such access was crucial in order to address the legitimate safety concerns of Rohingya refugees contemplating their return to Myanmar.
“Refugees need to be properly informed and consulted about such conditions in order for returns to be safe, voluntary and sustainable,” Edwards said.
Myanmar was due to start taking back over 650,000 of its nationals from Bangladesh in a gradual process starting from yesterday.
However, on Sunday the Bangladesh foreign minister, AH Mahmood Ali, said he was not able to give a specific date amid mounting international criticism that the process is being initiated too soon after the forced displacement of the Rohingyas from Rakhine.
On Tuesday, the UNHCR further said that Myanmar needed to follow through on their commitment to implementing the recommendations of the Rakhine Advisory Commission, in order for any repatriations to be viable.
These include calls for peace and security for all communities in Rakhine State, inter-communal dialogue, freedom of movement, access to livelihoods, and finding solutions for the legal and citizenship status of the Muslim communities.
“Without this, the risk of dangerous and rushed returns into a situation where violence might reignite is too great to be ignored,” Edwards said.
The UNHCR spokesperson said the UN rights agency remains prepared to work with both the Myanmar and Bangladesh governments towards finding a long-term solution to this crisis.
Edwards said this would be in the interest of the refugees themselves, both governments, the host community in Bangladesh, and all communities in Rakhine State.