A Rohingya child walks down from a hill at Kutupalong refugee camp in Ukhia, Bangladesh on July 24. An Australian think tank has stated that conditions are not in place to support a safe, dignified and sustainable return of Rohingya refugees to Rakhine State. (Photo by Munir Uz Zaman/AFP)
Myanmar has made minimal preparations for the return of thousands of Rohingya Muslims who fled Rakhine State and have taken refuge in Bangladesh, according to a new study by an Australian think-tank.
The Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) said in a study released July 24: “Satellite analysis shows minimal preparations for a return of half a million refugees.”
The study, “Mapping conditions in Rakhine State,” found that preparations supposedly being made for the return of the refugees cast doubt on the conditions under which they would be expected to live.
The new study, based on satellite imagery from Dec. 2018 to June 2019, studied 392 Rohingya settlements identified by UNOSAT, the United Nations imagery analysis service, as having been burned, damaged or destroyed in the 2017 crackdown.
It reveals that more than 320 settlements showed no signs of reconstruction and that 45 camps had been built or enlarged, some of which were believed to be already housing internally displaced people.
More worryingly, the report also described a pattern of what it called “securitization” in the region since 2017 after finding what it suspected to be military facilities built on former Rohingya settlements.
It identified at least 58 settlements that had been subject to new demolition in 2018, and that demolition had continued in other settlements in 2019.
“The continued destruction of residential areas across 2018 and 2019, clearly identifiable through our longitudinal satellite analysis, raises serious questions about the willingness of the Myanmar government to facilitate a safe and dignified repatriation process,” said Nathan Ruser, from the ASPI’s International Cyber Policy Center.
“The visual analysis we provide in the report demonstrates this powerfully.”
The Myanmar government and military are yet to respond to the report.
Kyaw Min, chairman of the Yangon-based Human Rights and Democracy Party, which fights for Rohingya rights, told ucanews.com he was not optimistic about thousands of Rohingya being able to return to their homes in Rakhine.
“Their houses were burned and destroyed — where will they live if they return?” Kyaw Min asked.
He added that it would take at least seven years for repatriation to be completed, even if the government’s plan to accept 300 refugees per day proceeded smoothly.
The release of the new report comes as protracted negotiations continue between Myanmar and Bangladesh for the repatriation of more than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims who fled to Bangladesh due to a bloody crackdown by Myanmar’s military that started in August 2017 following border-post attacks by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army.
A Myanmar delegation led by permanent secretary of Foreign Affairs Myint Thu will July 27 leave for Bangladesh to meet with refugees and advance their delayed repatriation.
Bangladesh and Myanmar had agreed that a group of more than 2,000 Rohingyas would go back to Rakhine State last November but that was postponed when many of the refugees refused to return out of fears for their safety.
Myanmar has repeatedly said it is ready for Rohingya repatriation and blamed Bangladesh over delays.
A U.N. fact-finding mission found that the Tatmadaw, the armed forces of Myanmar, committed four of the five acts constituting genocide against the Rohingya and that military chief Min Aung Hlaing and five other senior generals should be prosecuted for genocide and crimes against humanity.
Last week, the United States imposed travel bans on Min Aung Hlaing and three top generals over their role in ethnic cleansing of Rohingya in Rakhine and other atrocities.