Tuesday, February 13, 2018 1:20 pm
UN official: Conditions aren't right for Rohingyas to return
EDITH M. LEDERER | Associated Press
UNITED NATIONS – The U.N. refugee chief warned Tuesday that conditions aren't right for Rohingya Muslims to voluntarily return to Myanmar because its government hasn't addressed their exclusion, denial of rights and lack of citizenship.
Filippo Grandi also warned that another "major new emergency looms" with the arrival of the monsoon season in March and more than 100,000 refugees in Bangladesh living in areas prone to flooding or landslides.
Grandi told the Security Council in a video briefing from Geneva that since the crisis began last August, more than 688,000 Rohingyas have fled violence and destruction, including over 1,500 this month – and thousands more are expected.
"It is time to bring an end to this repeated devastating cycle of violence, displacement and statelessness – to invest in tangible, substantial measures that will start to overcome the profound exclusion that the Rohingya community has endured for far too long," he said.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said this is the responsibility of the government of Myanmar, "but international engagement and support are key to making it happen."
Buddhist-majority Myanmar doesn't recognize the Rohingya as an ethnic group, insisting they are Bengali migrants from Bangladesh living illegally in the country. It has denied them citizenship, leaving them stateless.
The recent spasm of violence began when Rohingya insurgents launched a series of attacks Aug. 25. Myanmar security forces then began a scorched-earth campaign against Rohingya villages that the U.N. and human rights groups have called a campaign of ethnic cleansing.
Grandi welcomed the agreement between Bangladesh and Myanmar on the voluntary return of refugees but said "the framework for return" should eventually be defined in a three-way agreement between the two governments and his office.
He said construction of structures to support the return of refugees is important – "but should not be confused with the establishment of conditions conducive to voluntary repatriation."
"Let me be clear, conditions are not yet conducive to the voluntary repatriation of Rohingya refugees," Grandi stressed.
More immediately, he said tens of thousands of Rohingyas in Bangladesh need to be urgently relocated because of the upcoming monsoon rains.
"Their lives are at grave risk," Grandi said, calling for building foundations to be strengthened, bridges to be built and reinforced, and new land found and made ready.
He said the Bangladesh government "is doing emergency preparedness efforts but international support must be stepped up to avoid catastrophe."
Grandi also called for "significant support" for Bangladesh, not only for the refugees but to help the government reinforce the local economy "and ensure access to opportunities for refugees and the communities hosting them."
Without education and opportunities to learn skills and earn an income, Grandi warned that refugees, and especially those who are young, will become disillusioned which can lead to radicalization and other risks including sexual and gender-based violence, trafficking, and other forms of abuse and exploitation.
Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Miroslav Jenca reiterated Secretary-General Antonio Guterres' demands: an end to violence, humanitarian access to Rakhine State where hundreds of thousands of Rohingyas remain, voluntary return of refugees to their homes or places of choice — and addressing the main cause of the crisis which is "statelessness."
Jenca said Myanmar's reported transmission of a list of what it said were 1,300 "terrorists" to Bangladesh and asking for their extradition, and its publication in the country's official newspaper of names and photos of hundreds of suspected "terrorists," has raised "questions about due process, and possible intimidation of potential returnees."