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Safety and ‘identity’ key for Rohingya returnees: U.N. chief in Myanmar

The signing of a memorandum of understanding between the government and U.N. development and refugee agencies – the UNDP and the UNHCR – marks a warming of ties which hit a low point last year after the government suggested some agencies provided food to Rohingya militants.

The head of the United Nations in Myanmar, Knut Ostby, said he hoped U.N. staff would be able to travel to the violence-ravaged north of Rakhine State “almost immediately” to assess the situation and – over time – to help the refugees in Bangladesh make an informed decision about potential returns.


Rohingya refugees walk toward a refugee camp after crossing the border in Anjuman Para near Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh in late 2017. Image: REUTERS


Since August, about 700,000 Rohingya have fled an army crackdown in Myanmar, many reporting killings, rape and arson on a large scale. The United Nations has called the campaign a textbook example of “ethnic cleansing” – a charge Myanmar denies.

U.N. officials have said for months the conditions in Myanmar were “not conducive” to returns which would be safe, voluntary and dignified and view Wednesday’s deal as a first step toward meeting those objectives.

“There are two really crucial things that need to be in place – one is to have an identity for the people who come back, so that they can live as normal members of society both in terms of an identity and in terms of being able to have the freedom of movement,” Ostby told Reuters by phone.


Rohingya refugees climb up a hill after crossing the Bangladesh-Myanmar border in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh September 8, 2017. Image: REUTERS


“And the other issue is that they need to be able to live in safety. They should not have to risk further violence,” said Ostby, who serves as the U.N. resident and humanitarian coordinator in Myanmar.

Access to basic services, livelihoods and infrastructure would also have to be addressed, he said.

Rohingya are widely called “Bengali” in Buddhist-majority Myanmar – which they see as a derogatory term implying they are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. They have been denied citizenship despite many tracing their roots in the country back generations.

Read more at : REUTERS