Myanmar to begin Rohingya refugees repatriation despite concerns

Rohingya killings

FILE PHOTO: Nearly 65,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh since October [Mohammad Ponir Hossain/Reuters]

Displaced Rohingya people in Rakhine State. By Foreign and Commonwealth Office – Flickr, OGL, Link

Repatriations of Rohingya refugees would begin on schedule by January 22, Myanmar said, as the United Nations and rights groups cast concern over the process.

Some 655,000 minority Rohingya have fled Myanmar’s northern Rakhine State to Bangladesh following a military crackdown, labelled ethnic cleansing by the UN, launched in August 2017.

Refugees would begin returning in line with an agreement signed by the two countries in November, Myanmar’s minister for social welfare, relief and resettlement, Win Myat Aye, told dpa on Thursday.

The people would return to their original villages after being housed at a “temporary area,’’ he said.

At least 354 Rohingya villages have been burned in Rakhine state since August, according to analysis of satellite imagery by Human Rights Watch.

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The UN would be involved “at some stage’’ in the repatriations, in accordance with the agreement, the minister said.

A spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said that returns should not be premature and that “further measures’’ were required to ensure their safety in Myanmar.

Myanmar’s government is in “la la land’’ if it believes Rohingya would return in line with the minister’s schedule, warned Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

“Why in the world would they dare go back within arm’s length to the army that just systematically shot, raped and murdered them, and torched their homes’’ he said.