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Conditions 'not right' for Rohingya return to Myanmar

UN rights chief says the government has a historic opportunity to bring people together

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Conditions 'not right' for Rohingya return to Myanmar

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi (center) visits a Rohingya camp in Sittwe on May 22, 2019. (Photo: AFP)

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UN refugee agency chief Filippo Grandi has said conditions are still not conducive for Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh to return to Myanmar and urged Myanmar to take quicker action to help them return home.

Speaking on the sidelines of the 2020 Joint Response Plan launch for 855,000 Rohingya and more than 444,000 vulnerable Bangladeshi in host communities on March 3, Grandi said the solution continues to be in Myanmar.

“The problem is that things that need to be done there, to create conditions for refugees to return from Bangladesh into Myanmar, are too slow or not happening yet,” said Grandi of the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR).

Reporting to the Human Rights Council, Grandi cited reports of Myanmar authorities laying landmines along the border with Bangladesh and requiring returnees to provide proof of nationality, an impossibility given that successive Myanmar governments have since 1962 progressively stripped the Rohingya of their political and civil rights including citizenship.

The UN agency chief asserted that Rohingya needed “freedom of movement, return of internally displaced people that are in camps in Rakhine state, respect of housing, land, property.”

He insisted that they also needed “clarity on the pathway to citizenship that various commissions have indicated as being the fundamental step that needs to be taken.”

“There needs to be clarity in the minds of the refugees of what that means, in order for them not to be discriminated against and to get eventually full integration in their own country, in their own society,” Grandi asserted.

The controversial 1982 law states that only ethnic nationalities whose families entered the country before 1823 are entitled to Myanmar citizenship. The Rohingya have thus been denied citizenship, accompanying rights and been denied or have restricted access to education and other state services.

Myanmar’s government regards the Rohingya as “Bengalis.” By not recognizing the term “Rohingya,” the government has implied that they are illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh despite most of them having lived in Myanmar for decades.

UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet has decried the root causes of violations and abuses suffered by the Rohingya Muslim community and other minorities in Myanmar.

“The government now has a historic opportunity to counteract systematic violations by bringing its people together as one,” Bachelet said in an interactive dialogue with the Human Rights Council on Feb. 27.

She reminded member states that for over half a century the policies of Myanmar have discriminated against religious and ethnic minorities. “Government policies have contributed to and perpetuated violence, extreme poverty, exploitation and dispossession.

Notably, the 1982 citizenship law rendered stateless a significant proportion of the Rohingya and other Muslims, compounding their vulnerability, she said. “The root causes of these violations are complex, multi-dimensional and long-standing. Unpacking and untangling this multi-faceted human rights challenge requires understanding the historical, political, economic and social dimensions as a prerequisite to identifying solutions.”

Myanmar has been facing international legal pressure over atrocities against Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine.

Civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi defended Myanmar at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) at The Hague last December after the Gambia filed a lawsuit on behalf of the 57-nation Organization of Islamic Cooperation alleging that Myanmar breached the 1948 Genocide Convention in its treatment of Rohingya Muslims.

On Jan. 23, the ICJ ordered Myanmar to carry out emergency provisional measures and to respect the requirements of the Genocide Convention.

A UN fact-finding mission reported that “genocidal acts” carried out in Rakhine state by Myanmar’s military in 2017 resulted in more than 740,000 Rohingya fleeing to Bangladesh.

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