Rohingya refugees demonstrate before the visit of U.N. secretary-general Antonio Guterres at the Kutupalong camp in Bangladesh's border district of Cox's Bazar on July 2. Guterres said he heard "unimaginable" accounts of atrocities. (Photo by Munir Uz Zaman/AFP)
Thousands of Rohingya have continued to flee Myanmar's ethnically and religiously divided Rakhine State to Bangladesh amid faltering efforts to repatriate earlier waves of refugees.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra'ad al Hussein, told the U.N. Human Rights Council on July 4 that there had been 11,432 arrivals in Bangladesh this year up until mid-June.
New refugees told UN officials about ongoing cases of violence and persecution, including killings or people having their homes burned.
"No amount of rhetoric can whitewash these facts," Zeid said.
He noted that some Rohingya were still putting their lives at risk when seeking to escape Myanmar by sea.
Matthew Smith, chief executive of the international non-government organization Fortify Rights, said Rohingya are still fleeing daily, including because of restrictions in Rakhine on their movements and ability to earn livelihoods.
Smith said this had exposed the absurdity of Myanmar's claims to be poised to take people back.
"Rohingya fled genocidal attacks only a few months ago and the government has obstructed all attempts to bring justice to the situation," Smith told ucanews.com.
"Rohingya communities know better than anyone the risks involved, and until the situation improves they are unlikely to return voluntarily."
Sultan, a Rohingya resident in a village near Maungdaw, northern Rakhine, identified security restrictions as the main reason people continued to flee.
He added that more Myanmar security personnel had been deployed in Maungdaw township to prevent attacks by the secessionist Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA).
Hla Tun Kyaw, ethnic Rakhine MP for the Arakan National Party (ANP) in Maungdaw constituency, said some Rohingya who earlier moved to Bangladesh were now re-entering Rakhine illegally.
More than 700,000 Rohingya fled to Bangladesh in the wake of a brutal crackdown by the Myanmar military that began last August. The army maintained that the security operations were a justified response to ARSA attacks.
Peter Maurer, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross who recently visited Rakhine, said he had not seen evidence that life for Rohingya there had significantly improved.
In one village he visited, there were only 2,000 of the original 9,000 inhabitants.
"I spoke with all communities: Muslim, Buddhist and Hindu," Maurer said on July 3. "They describe how the social fabric and local economy have been destroyed, making people entirely reliant on humanitarian aid."
Conditions were simply not conducive to large-scale returns, he added.
Myanmar and Bangladesh are struggling to implement a repatriation deal sketched out last December as many Rohingya fear for their safety if they go back to Rakhine.
UN agencies in late May negotiated a more detailed memorandum of understanding on repatriations.
While the memorandum has not been made public, an earlier draft was leaked on social media.