Rohingya refugee Jokhir Ahmend at Balukhali refugee camp in Bangladesh, where 700,000 Rohingya Muslims are preparing for the monsoon season. (Photo by Munir Uz Zaman/AFP)
A deal between the Myanmar government and United Nations agencies has done little to improve confidence that Rohingya refugees will agree to be repatriated from Bangladesh.
The U.N. said the agreement will establish a framework for cooperation aimed at creating conditions conducive to the "voluntary, safe, dignified and sustainable" repatriation of Rohingya to "their places of origin or of their choosing."
It should also help refugee agency UNHCR and development agency UNDP to gain access to Rakhine State that has not been permitted since last August.
However, Matthew Smith, chief executive of Fortify Rights, said Myanmar wants the world to think it is doing the right thing without actually making any fundamental changes on the ground.
"It's telling that Rohingya aren't clamoring to return to the places where they recently survived genocidal attacks. The authorities are attempting to distract the world from mass atrocities committed by the army," Smith told ucanews.com.
He said Myanmar should amend its citizenship law to ensure Rohingya have equal access to full citizenship. It should also lift restrictions on freedom of movement.
A Rohingya from a village in Maungdaw, northern Rakhine, said the deal was just to show the world that the Myanmar government was collaborating with U.N. agencies.
"For refugees, denying citizenship and access to their land and properties remains a barrier for their return," he said.
Kyaw Min, chairman of the Yangon-based Democracy and Human Rights Party that represents the Rohingya, said U.N. involvement is a first step but he doubts what role its agencies will play.
"Citizenship rights, freedom of movement and access to their farms for their livelihood are the wishes of returnees, but the government is not willing to accept Rohingya refugees and giving citizenship," Kyaw Min told ucanews.com.
More than 700,000 Rohingya fled from Rakhine to Bangladesh after the Myanmar military's bloody crackdown last August.
Bangladesh and Myanmar signed a repatriation deal last November. The process was due to begin in January but Bangladesh postponed it, citing a lack of preparations on its behalf.
According to an Xchange foundation survey, among the 1,700 Rohingya refugees interviewed in Bangladeshi camps, 78 percent would return to Myanmar if security, welfare and/or the political situation improved, 16 percent would not under any circumstances, and 6 percent would return unconditionally.
On May 31, the Myanmar president's office said it would establish an independent commission to probe rights violations by the military in northern Rakhine following attacks by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army last August.
Yet the government has established half a dozen commissions in recent months and not one has revealed any meaningful investigation into the military's actions.
Kyaw Min said the previous commissions had not produced any results. "[Aung San] Suu Kyi has no dialogue with Rohingya, so how can we tackle the problem?" he asked.
Rights activist Smith said: "The government has demonstrated that it's unwilling and unable to properly investigate and prosecute the atrocities that have happened, and the international justice system was created precisely in response to such situations."