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Skepticism as Myanmar Announces Rohingya Return

Skepticism as Myanmar Announces Rohingya Return

Rights groups slammed the move as a publicity stunt which ignored warnings over the security of returnees.

The stateless Muslim minrity has been massing in squalid Bangladesh camps since the Myanmar army launched a ruthless crackdown on the community in northern Rakhine state last August.

The UN has accused Myanmar of "ethnic cleansing" - a charge it denies. Bangladesh has given Myanmar a list of more than 8000 refugees to begin the repatriations, but there have been delays due to a complicated verification process.

The Myanmar government announced late on Saturday that a family of refugees had become the first to be processed in newly built repatriation centres earlier that day. Myanmar says five members of a family arrived at a "repatriation camp" on Saturday, and were provided with supplies and ID cards.

Bangladesh's refugee commissioner, Mohammad Abul Kalam, told Agence France-Presse the family had been living in a camp erected on a patch of "no man's land" between the two countries.

Several thousand Rohingya have been living in the zone since August, crammed into a cluster of tents beyond a barbed-wire fence that roughly demarcates the border.

Early this week, Myanmar Social Welfare Minister Win Myat Aye met with about 40 Rohingya refugees at the Kutupalong camp in Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh for more than an hour, sometimes exchanging heated words.

Official repatriation was due to start in January but this is the first family to return.




Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth told SBS News on Monday the fact "that one desperate family may have chosen repatriation rather than the relative safety of Bangladesh. doesn't mean anything and certainly shouldn't be assumed to be a trend or a commentary under the abysmal conditions that remain within Myanmar". It said that the family had been staying with family members in Maungdaw town, the center near the border.

A Facebook post on the official page of Myanmar's Information Committee appears to show the family getting health checks and receiving packages of rice, mosquito netting, and blankets.

"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", the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said in a statement.The comments come amid the repatriation of the first Rohingya family back to Myanmar. But it did not mention plans for further returnees expected in the near future.

The Rohingya Muslims are reviled by many in the Buddhist-majority country, where they are branded as illegal "Bangali" immigrants from Bangladesh, despite their long roots in Rakhine state.

They have been systematically stripped of their citizenship in recent decades and forced to live in apartheid-like conditions with severely restricted access to health care, education, and other basic services.

Many have refused to take part in repatriation until they receive guarantees about their rights and citizenship.

Last week, the most senior United Nations official to visit Myanmar this year, the assistant secretary general for humanitarian affairs, Ursula Mueller, said conditions in Myanmar were not conducive to the return of the refugees.

Many Rohingya refugees say they fear returning to a country where they saw their relatives murdered by soldiers and vigilantes who drove them from their homes.

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