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UN and Myanmar agree on Rohingya return

Jun 08, 2018

An Memorandum of Understanding has been signed between the government of Myanmar and the United Nations for creating the right conditions for the safe return of over 700,000 Rohingya refugees, in case they are willing to return to their homes in Myanmar’s Rakhine province.

A Memorandum of Understanding was signed on Wednesday to facilitate the return of the Rohinga population seeking refuge in Bangladesh.
It will be recalled that Rohingya refugees began fleeing Myanmar in August 2017 in the wake of persecution by Myanmar's army.
The MoU between the Government of Myanmar on the one hand, and the the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the UN Development Programme (UNDP), signals an agreement for creating conditions conducive to voluntary, safe, dignified, and sustainable refugee returns from Bangladesh, and their reintegration in Myanmar.
“As these conditions are not yet in place, (the Secretary General) welcomes the agreement by the Government of Myanmar to take this first step to address the root causes of the conflict in Rakhine,” a statement issued by the UN chief’s spokesperson reads.
According to the spokesperson, Secretary General António Guterres also encouraged Myanmar to take “decisive steps to implement the agreement” and reiterated his call for an end to violence, accountability for perpetrators, redress for victims, humanitarian access to all areas in Rakhine state, and the implementation of the recommendations of the Rakhine Advisory Commission.
However, officials connected to UNHCR are cautious and say that this is just an initial step and signifies an agreement on the lines of a framework agreed upon last week. They say that this MoU is a first, though necessary step since the conditions are not yet conducive for the return of the refugees.
The Advisory Commission on Rakhine State – a body composed of six local experts and three international experts, chaired by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan – had earlier proposed concrete measures for improving the welfare of all people in the province. Recommendations included establishing a clear and voluntary pathway to citizenship and ensuring freedom of movement for all people there, irrespective of religion, ethnicity or citizenship status.
The Rohingya have not been granted any level of citizenship, or citizenship rights, which is a major impediment to their return home.
Not surprisingly then, moments ahead of signing Wednesday's MoU, Knut Ostby, UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Myanmar was quoted by UN News as saying, “People need to have an identity, they need to be able to exist as normal people in society, they need to be able to move around so they can enjoy services and livelihoods.”
He listed the two most important conditions for their safe and voluntary return as the citizenship rights of the Rohingyas and an end to violence. “There needs to be an absence of violence. People need to be able to return in peace.”
"This is a first, and very important step, but it is now that the really important work starts," he added.
The emphasis on the refugees volunteering to return owes to the the UNHCR's commitment to the principle non refoulement that necessitates not forcing refugees to return to a situation they have escaped from.
The persecution of the religious Rohingya minority began with the 2012 Rakhine State riots – a series of conflicts involving ethnic Rakhine Buddhists from the country's majority community and the Rohingya Muslims in northern Rakhine State, Myanmar. In the months and years to follow, Muslims of all ethnicities were being targeted. There have, since, been questions of the role of the State as Rohingyas employed desperate means to escape persecution beginning August 2017.
As the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom notes, "Extreme nationalist sentiment among some Buddhists continued to drive enmity toward Muslims in Burma in 2017, and some Buddhist leaders propagated chauvinistic and racist attitudes."
So far, over 700,000 mainly-Muslim Rohingya have fled Rakhine state, in majority-Buddhist Myanmar, making Cox's Bazar in for neighbouring Bangladesh a temporary, and extremely undignified, home. Most say they were fleeing violence and persecution, including a military campaign by Myanmar forces, which began in response to violent attacks by Rohingya insurgents.
The Memorandum of Understanding will give UNHCR and UNDP access to Rakhine state, including to refugees’ places of origin and potential new settlement areas that the UN has so far been unable to access since the violence escalated at the end of last August.
The access, once verified, will allow UNHCR to assess local conditions and help the refugees to make informed decisions on voluntary return.
The agreement will also allow UNHCR and UNDP to carry out needs assessments in affected communities and strengthen the capacity of local authorities to support the voluntary repatriation process.

 

A Memorandum of Understanding was signed on Wednesday to facilitate the return of the Rohinga population seeking refuge in Bangladesh.

It will be recalled that Rohingya refugees began fleeing Myanmar in August 2017 in the wake of persecution by Myanmar's army.

The MoU between the Government of Myanmar on the one hand, and the the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the UN Development Programme (UNDP), signals an agreement for creating conditions conducive to voluntary, safe, dignified, and sustainable refugee returns from Bangladesh, and their reintegration in Myanmar.

“As these conditions are not yet in place, (the Secretary General) welcomes the agreement by the Government of Myanmar to take this first step to address the root causes of the conflict in Rakhine,” a statement issued by the UN chief’s spokesperson reads.

According to the spokesperson, Secretary General António Guterres also encouraged Myanmar to take “decisive steps to implement the agreement” and reiterated his call for an end to violence, accountability for perpetrators, redress for victims, humanitarian access to all areas in Rakhine state, and the implementation of the recommendations of the Rakhine Advisory Commission.

The Advisory Commission on Rakhine State – a body composed of six local experts and three international experts, chaired by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan – had earlier proposed concrete measures for improving the welfare of all people in the province. Recommendations included establishing a clear and voluntary pathway to citizenship and ensuring freedom of movement for all people there, irrespective of religion, ethnicity or citizenship status.

The Rohingya have not been granted any level of citizenship, or citizenship rights, which is a major impediment to their return home.

Not surprisingly then, moments ahead of signing Wednesday's MoU, Knut Ostby, UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Myanmar was quoted by UN News as saying, “People need to have an identity, they need to be able to exist as normal people in society, they need to be able to move around so they can enjoy services and livelihoods.”

He listed the two most important conditions for their safe and voluntary return as the citizenship rights of the Rohingyas and an end to violence. “There needs to be an absence of violence. People need to be able to return in peace.”

"This is a first, and very important step, but it is now that the really important work starts," he added.

The persecution of the religious Rohingya minority began with the 2012 Rakhine State riots – a series of conflicts involving ethnic Rakhine Buddhists from the country's majority community and the Rohingya Muslims in northern Rakhine State, Myanmar. In the months and years to follow, Muslims of all ethnicities were being targeted. There have, since, been questions of the role of the State as Rohingyas employed desperate means to escape persecution begining August 2017.

As the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom notes, "Extreme nationalist sentiment among some Buddhists continued to drive enmity toward Muslims in Burma in 2017, and some Buddhist leaders propagated chauvinistic and racist attitudes."

So far, over 700,000 mainly-Muslim Rohingya have fled Rakhine state, in majority-Buddhist Myanmar, making Cox's Bazar in for neighbouring Bangladesh a temporary, and extremely undignified, home. Most say they were fleeing violence and persecution, including a military campaign by Myanmar forces, which began in response to violent attacks by Rohingya insurgents.

The Memorandum of Understanding will give UNHCR and UNDP access to Rakhine state, including to refugees’ places of origin and potential new settlement areas that the UN has so far been unable to access since the violence escalated at the end of last August.

The access, once verified, will allow UNHCR to assess local conditions and help the refugees to make informed decisions on voluntary return.

The agreement will also allow UNHCR and UNDP to carry out needs assessments in affected communities and strengthen the capacity of local authorities to support the voluntary repatriation process.

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