Myanmar announces first Rohingya repatriation


Myanmar on Saturday repatriated what it said was the first Rohingya family from almost 700,000 refugees who had fled to Bangladesh, after months of fraught talks with Dhaka and amid United Nations warnings that the country is not ready for their return.

"Since the family did not enter Bangladesh, their return can not be considered repatriation".

An estimated 647,000 Rohingya - about half of Burma's entire population of Rohingya, a stateless Muslim ethnic minority group - have left their homes in northern Rakhine state since violence erupted in August and crossed into Bangladesh, settling in vast and squalid refugee camps.

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.

According to the Rohingya Blogger, however, the individuals in the photos are the family members of the administrator of Taung Pyo Latya, the designated entry point for returning refugees.

There are some people stranded in the no man's land at the Myanmar border.

The group described the announcement a "fake event", aimed at luring Rohingya refugees to return to Myanmar to live in camps.

"They were not under our jurisdiction, therefore we can not confirm whether there would be more people waiting to go back [to Myanmar]", he told AFP.

Burma and Bangladesh agreed in January to complete a voluntary repatriation of the refugees in two years.

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It reported Saturday's returnees were provided the with National Verification Cards, a form of ID that falls short of citizenship and has been rejected by Rohingya leaders.

The family members were scrutinised by immigration and health ministry officials and the Ministry fo Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement provided them with "materials such as rice, mosquito netting, blankets, T-shirt, longyis [Burmese sarong] and kitchen utensils", said the government in the statement.

The United Nations has warned that a mass repatriation of Rohingya would be premature.

Authorities there deny this, insisting that they have been waging a legitimate counter-insurgency operation after attacks by Rohingya militants on security forces last August.

Separately, Andrea Giorgetta from the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) told AFP that the repatriation announcement is "a public relations exercise in an attempt to deflect attention from the need for accountability for crimes committed in Rakhine State".

On Friday, UNHCR said that the "conditions in Myanmar are not yet conducive for returns to be safe, dignified and sustainable", adding that "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".

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. She described conditions in camps for internally displaced people from previous bouts of violence as "deplorable".

He said: "The return of this Rohingya family can not be considered as repatriation in any way".