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Myanmar mulls Rohingya return

Thein Sein agrees to pursue the idea of repatriation of ethnic refugee group

Myanmar mulls Rohingya return
A Rohingya refugee boy carries firewood at a refugee camp (photo: Dr Habib Siddiqui) Asia Desk, Bangkok

December 7, 2011

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Myanmar President Thein Sein yesterday agreed to pursue the repatriation of ethnic Rohingya during bilateral talks with Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, though questions remain about how any agreement would be carried out. Hasina traveled to the administrative capital Naypyidaw for a three-day state visit that ended today, during which the regional neighbors also discussed closer cooperation on energy, trade and transportation, according to the Bangladesh national news agency. “We would … take back all Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh after verifying them and as per the agreed criterion between the two countries,” Thein Sein was quoted as saying by the news agency. Myanmar first expressed its willingness to consider repatriation when the state visit was announced in October, though few details have emerged about how the process would be carried out. The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees has granted official refugee status to 28,000 Rohingya living in camps near the two countries’ border. However, an estimated 200,000 unofficial refugees live in makeshift camps with no legal protections and little access to food and health care. Grave human rights abuses have driven the largely Muslim Rohingya across the border to Bangladesh to escape forced labor, restrictions on movement and no acknowledgment of citizenship within Myanmar, among other abuses documented by human rights groups. Phil Robertson, deputy director of the Asia division of Human Rights Watch, said the announcement raises serious questions in the international community about the legitimacy of the proposed repatriation. “Bangladesh has been willfully failing in its obligations to receive refugees,” he said, adding that the root problem is “human rights abuses against the Rohingya in Burma, aided and abetted by the horrendous treatment they receive in Bangladesh.” “Rather than working with the international community, these two governments have reached an in-the-dark agreement with no details and no recognition of human rights abuses.” Nural Haq, 19, a Rohingya living in Cox’s Bazar, told that he would only return to Myanmar if the government guaranteed his safety. “We will go back to our country if the government assures us that we can live there in peace. We must be provided with all basic human rights.”
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