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17 April 2018, 06:11 | Darrell Baldwin
First Rohingya refugees repatriated to Myanmar despite UN safety fears
Now, the first Rohingya family has been repatriated, Burma's government said in a Facebook post late Saturday, despite warnings from the United Nations that conditions in the country are not right for their return.
Some 700,000 Rohingya have fled across the border to escape a brutal military campaign that began last August.
Bangladesh and Myanmar agreed in November to repatriate three-quarters of a million Rohingya by the end of the year but the deal has been delayed indefinitely, with each side blaming the other for a lack of preparation.
The UN refugee agency said in a statement that Win Myat Aye's visit was an important "confidence-building" measure between the two governments, but that conditions in Myanmar "are not yet conducive for the voluntary, safe, dignified, and sustainable return of refugees". "The five members of a family ... came back to Taungpyoletwei town repatriation camp in Rakhine state". The post described the family as "Muslim", in line with a government policy not to use the word "Rohingya", which authorities do not recognize as an ethnicity.
"The repatriated Rohingya family did not reach Bangladesh as they used to live on no-man's land", he said, responding to Burma's claim on Saturday that it had repatriated a family of five people who it said had been residing in Bangladesh.
Bangladesh's Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner Abud Kalam told Reuters that "this is in no way a repatriation, rather it is propaganda".
The move came despite repeated warnings from the United Nations and other rights groups that a mass repatriation of Rohingya would be premature, as Myanmar has yet to address the systematic legal discrimination and persecution the minority has faced for decades.
UNHCR also urged the Myanmar Government to immediately provide full and unhindered access to refugees' places of origin in Rakhine, which would enable it to assess the situation and provide information to refugees about conditions in the places of origin, as well as to monitor any possible future return and reintegration of refugees.
In this April 14 photo provided by Myanmar Government Information Committee, Myanmar immigration officials examine documents and photographs with a Rohingya family of five at a receiving centre in Taung Pyo, Letwe, northern Rakhine state.
The Facebook post does not mention further plans to repatriate more Rohingya. The Rohingya are reviled by many in the Buddhist-majority country, where they are branded as illegal "Bengali" immigrants from Bangladesh, despite their deep roots in Rakhine state.
More than 670,000 Rohingya fled violence in Myanmar since last August, joining an estimated 200,000 Rohingya who have sought shelter in Bangladesh, arriving in waves over the past decades.
The agency said the responsibility to create such conditions lies with Myanmar, and that refugees in Bangladesh want to see steps taken to ensure basic rights and security.
Many Rohingya refugees say they fear returning to a country where they saw their relatives murdered by soldiers and Buddhist vigilantes who drove them from their homes.
NVCs are part of the government's ongoing effort to register Rohingya that falls short of offering them citizenship. Hundreds of Rohingya were reportedly killed in the recent violence, and many houses and villages burned to the ground.
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