UN rights expert says Rohingya cannot return to Myanmar

Yanghee Lee claims Myanmar security forces are continuing to attack the Muslim minority
UN rights expert says Rohingya cannot return to Myanmar

U.N. special rapporteur Yanghee Lee addresses a press conference in Dhaka on Jan. 25 where she told the media that Myanmar's security forces are continuing their campaign of violence against the Rohingya. (Photo by Munir Uz Zaman/AFP)

The United Nations’ special rapporteur on human rights has said that Myanmar is not working to create conditions for Rohingya refugees to return as it is engaging in a sustained campaign of “violence, intimidation and harassment.”

Yanghee Lee, who has been denied entry by Myanmar’s government since September 2017, visited Thailand and Bangladesh from Jan. 14-25 to monitor the human rights situation in Myanmar.

Lee said the campaign of violence against the Rohingya is continuing, with security forces slowly bleeding the remaining Rohingya population and continuing to force them to flee to Bangladesh.

She held discussions with Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh.

Lee said she spoke to one woman who arrived in Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh a few days ago after her father was stabbed to death by Myanmar security forces.

“A man I spoke to told me that he and his entire family fled recently after his mother and sister were abducted and raped,” Lee said in her statement as she concluded her visit to Bangladesh on Jan. 25.

According to information gathered by her team, Rohingya houses were burned by Myanmar security forces working in concert with Rakhine extremists.

“It is clear that Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh cannot return to Myanmar in the near future,” Lee said.

Lee will present her findings and recommendations to the 40th session of the U.N. Human Rights Council in March.

More than 700,000 Rohingya fled to Bangladesh in the wake of the crackdown that began in August 2017 following attacks on security personnel by Rohingya militants.

Bangladesh and Myanmar agreed to send the first batch of more than 2,000 refugees back home last November, but the move was delayed as many refused to return out of fear for their safety.

A Rohingya in Maungdaw township in northern Rakhine said the hardship of daily survival and a lack of freedom of movement amid tight security have prompted people to flee to Bangladesh.

“Rohingya refugees will not go back to Rakhine if their demand for citizenship is not fulfilled by Myanmar’s authorities,” he told ucanews.com.

 

'No rush to relocate refugees'

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Hla Tun Kyaw, an ethnic Rakhine MP for the Arakan National Party in Maungdaw constituency, told ucanews.com that Lee’s remarks contradicted the situation on the ground in northern Rakhine where people were not fleeing.

Lee visited the island of Bhashan Char on Jan. 24 and urged Bangladesh to observe caution and patience before proceeding with any plan to relocate refugees there.

“There should be no rush to relocate refugees, such as before the monsoon season, which is one of the possibilities that has been outlined to me,” she said.

“It is imperative that any measures to relocate the refugees enhance their enjoyment of rights and do not create a new crisis.”

Lee advised Bangladesh’s government to share feasibility studies and allow the U.N. to carry out “a full technical and humanitarian assessment, including a security assessment, before making any further plans for the housing of people on the island.”

Located in Noakhali district in southeast Bangladesh, Bhasan Char is a muddy island in the Bay of Bengal. It emerged from the sea some two decades ago and is prone to flooding and storms during monsoon season from June to September.

Bangladesh’s government first floated the island relocation plan for Rohingya refugees in 2015. Despite criticism from aid groups and human rights bodies, the government reportedly spent US$280 million to develop the island for human habitation, media reported.

James Gomes, regional director of Catholic charity Caritas Chittagong, which operates in refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar, told ucanews.com: “I think the government has taken the concerns of U.N. officials seriously by not rushing and thinking afresh about the relocation plan so that it does not face criticism and pressure. Aid groups will cooperate with the government and operate among refugees in the new location if allowed.”

Muhammad Rezwan, 25, a Rohingya refugee in Kutupalong camp, told ucanews.com: “We are thankful to Bangladesh for saving our lives by offering shelter, and we will move to Bhasan Char if needed. But we request that our leaders are allowed to have a look before we move so that we face no risks in the new place.” 

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