Myanmar cries 'repatriation' with return of one family from no man's land

Phillip Cunningham
April 17, 2018

Myanmar's government says it repatriated the first family of Rohingya refugees, among 700,000 who fled to Bangladesh during a brutal crackdown in Myanmar's Rakhine state.

The Myanmar government's step was slammed by rights groups as a publicity stunt which ignored warnings over the security of returnees, according to AFP.

More than 670,000 members of the Muslim minority Rohingya community fled violence in Myanmar since August 2017, joining an estimated 200,000 Rohingya who have sought shelter in Bangladesh, arriving in waves over the past decades. The United States government and the United Nations describe the violence against the Rohingya as "ethnic cleansing".

Bangladesh and Myanmar agreed a repatriation plan in January but its start has been repeatedly delayed as both sides blame the other for lack of preparation.

The website claimed after conducting its own investigation that family entered the border area, where the refugees are camped out, to try "persuade" other Rohingya families to return to Myanmar.

The official Information Committee published a photograph of the single unidentified family on its Facebook page on Saturday: a man, two women and a boy and girl, who were reported to have crossed from Bangladesh that morning.

Since the family did not enter Bangladesh, and used to live in the no man's land, their return can not be considered repatriation, Relief and Refugee Repatriation Commissioner Mohammad Abul Kalam said on Sunday.

Several thousand Rohingya have been living in the zone since August, crammed into a cluster of tents beyond a barbed-wire fence which roughly demarcates the border zone between the two countries. The rest of the refugees have settled in sprawling camps in Bangladesh's Cox's Bazar district.

"They were not under our jurisdiction; therefore, we can not confirm whether there would be more people waiting to go back [to Myanmar], he said, adding that the two neighbours had not yet started the Rohingya repatriation process".

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".

According to the Myanmar statement, immigration authorities provided the family with National Verification Cards, a form of ID that falls short of citizenship and has been rejected by many Rohingya leaders who want full rights before they return.

It said that the family had been sent to stay "temporarily" with relatives in Maungdaw town.

The post did not mention plans for further returnees expected in the near future.

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

Although the Rohingya have lived in Myanmar for many generations, most people in Myanmar consider them unwanted immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh and refer to them as "Bengalis, " a term the Rohingya consider derogatory.

Myanmar must address "critical issues of freedom of movement, social cohesion, livelihoods, and access to services", she added. Hundreds of Rohingya were reportedly killed in the recent violence, and many houses and villages burned to the ground.

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